The Columns

Interest STEMs from Fun With a Davis Projects for Peace grant, Angel Vela de la Garza Evia ’18 created an educational summer program for children in his hometown of Monterrey, Mexico. [With time-lapse VIDEO]

— by on October 17th, 2017

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Angel Vela de la Garza Evia ’18 was inspired to pursue his career of choice by his father and grandfather, who are both chemical engineers. But he wonders if he would have found his way to the fields of science, technology, engineering or math if he hadn’t been exposed to them as a child.

That question drove him to develop a STEM program for children in a public primary school in his hometown of Monterrey, Mexico. Thanks to a $10,000 Davis Projects for Peace grant, the Bonner Scholar was able to take his project home for the summer of 2017.

Dubbed “STEMito,” the project included a four-week educational program designed to introduce 30 children between ages 5 and 13 to STEM topics, using fun experiments and activities. A second part of the project involved transforming a regular classroom at Escuela Eduardo Caballero Escamilla into a STEM center equipped with a computer, books, games and more.

During late May and June, a group that included Vela de la Garza Evia and local volunteers turned a Kelly-green cinderblock room into a bright, clean STEM workspace complete with colorful wall paintings of plants, animals, waves and a space ship. Their work was captured in the time-lapse video below.

During the month-long summer program that followed, each of the four weeks was filled with a variety of STEM activities and experiments. The wide age range of the students presented a challenge; activities had to be easy enough for the youngest kids to understand and sophisticated enough to keep older children interested.

Vela de la Garza Evia credits his girlfriend and STEMito co-founder, Valeria Garcia, with developing the curriculum for the program. Garcia is studying education at the University of Monterrey. Some of their family members and friends also chipped in to help in multiple ways.

One helpful assistant was Matt Lubas ’18, another engineering student at W&L. Lubas won a separate grant that funded his trip to Monterrey during the third week of the program, and he was able to accompany the group to the LEGO factory and a science planetarium, as well as help with engineering activities.

At the end of the program, each student got a package of supplies, including a binder, folder, journal, pencil, eraser and STEMito diploma. Vela de la Garza Evia considered the program a success, not to mention a rewarding way to spend the summer.

“It took a lot of thinking and planning,” he said. “It made me realize that students in the school have a lot of potential and creativity, and the only thing impeding them from reaching that potential is external factors like a lack of funds or educational material. It’s sad, in a way, to see that reality, but it gave me hope that if we do try to expand the program, the students will be passionate and interested in participating and learning about STEM topics.”

Vela de la Garza Evia is exploring opportunities to keep the program running, and is working with Lubas to see if a group of W&L students can travel to Monterrey for February Break. He is also working with connections in Mexico, including local universities, to create a second-annual STEMito program and, potentially, a joint effort between W&L and the University of Monterrey.

“My main goal was for the students to get their hands on the experiments, and to teach them the concepts,” he said. “They may not remember the specifics, but they will remember the opportunity.

“I hope that our program exposes them to what STEM is so they can think: I want to be a scientist or a mathematician.”

As a partner school of the Davis United World College Scholars Program, Washington and Lee University is eligible to receive Davis Projects for Peace grants. The program is funded by the late Kathryn Wasserman Davis, who established it on her 100th birthday in 2007 as a way to challenge young people to plant seeds of peace throughout the world with innovative projects. At least one Washington and Lee student has won a Davis grant each year since the award’s inception.