Daniel Aguirre knows firsthand the challenges of cultivating interest in STEM disciplines among South Bay communities. He grew up in San Ysidro, where he says students are pressured to finish high school quickly in order to get a job and help out their family financially instead of advancing their education. As community engagement manager at the Fleet Science Center, Aguirre runs “52 Weeks of Science,” a program that brings everyday science and researchers into Barrio Logan and Logan Heights on a weekly basis. Previous events included a lowrider car show explaining how hydraulic systems make the cars bounce, and teaching kids how to design and build their own toys using engineering principles. He shared with us his thoughts on the mission.
Science is everywhere
“We are a science center. But that doesn’t mean that science isn’t everywhere around us. We have a responsibility to reach as many people as possible, and we want to reach them where they live, work, and play. That’s the goal. With 52 Weeks of Science, we can bring organizations together to create awareness about science and make it accessible for everybody. We’re trying to inspire people to get into these fields and develop that homegrown talent.”
“If you’re going to try to inspire children and young adults, you can bring in all the programming you want—but at the end of day it won’t matter if you don’t have parent buy-in. A parent needs to be able to recognize that their kid has a talent or an affinity for a STEM field, and learn how to nurture that.”
Making it meaningful
“A pivotal moment for me in this program was understanding that it can’t be just about filling a calendar with events. It’s got to be meaningful. This community is also very concerned about gentrification. The Fleet realizes that you can’t just bring all these outside organizations into a community that’s got its guard way up. One of the first things I did with the program is organize a town hall meeting so we could talk to the community. We also implemented a locally based leadership team.”
Starting a movement
“We’d love to expand the program as much as possible. We moved into Clairemont in May, and we’re in talks with several communities, including National City. We’ll identify those ‘STEM champions’ within a community and give them a toolkit to understand how to build the capacity to take on a program like this and make it work. I truly believe this is a movement. It should be something we replicate across the country. Why not? Why not put an emphasis on education?”