After hearing first lady Michelle Obama's call to action during last year's commencement ceremony, graduate student David Gravano felt inspired to give back to the community.
Obama recalled feeling no connection with University of Chicago growing up because the campus never reached out to her. Gravano didn't want UC Merced to appear the same way, disconnected from the area's youth.
"You don't want the university to be an island," Gravano explained. "I wanted to do my part to increase outreach."
Gravano, the community outreach officer with the Graduate Students Association , created the Scientists of Tomorrow Educational Partnership (STEP). He helped organize twenty five graduate students, who volunteered two times a week for three hours to teach science to about 100 children at Farmdale Elementary School in South Merced.
STEP was supported by the National Society for Black Engineers , the Science and Math Initiative and the Graduate Students Association. The partnership is another example of leadership opportunities available for students interested in a college experience that goes beyond the classroom.
Farmdale school students in the fourth and fifth grade applied the scientific method, performed experiments and made posters to present. The two-week program culminated with a science fair so parents could see their children's achievements.
Experiments included creating a battery with a lemon, growing bacteria cultures, building rockets with baking soda and vinegar, and investigating the bug diversity in the playground's grass, trees and bushes.
"This was putting into practice the elementary things they were learning," Farmdale fifth grade teacher Marcia Forgey said.
Forgey wasn't sure how many students would volunteer to spend extra time after school, but the turnout was great.
"Kids love science," she said. "They can put their hands on it and they can wrap their heads around it."
Beyond the fun, Forgey said the experience reinforced what they were learning in class and would help them on the science section of the state's standardized tests.
Mark Kerfoot, who's pursuing a doctoral degree in physics , joined in the partnership to use his education to help young students. He taught them how to build a simple motor using a battery, magnet and paperclips.
"It's a great opportunity to give back to the community," he said, "and develop the next generation of scientists."
The outreach effort will continue April 13 when the students will visit the UC Merced campus as part of Research Week and their first place posters will be displayed as part of the event's poster contest.