The Oakland Chabot Space & Science Center is particularly effective at inspiring an intrigue in science among young people. For some, like Stanley Cheng, that intrigue helped to inspire a career.
An electrical engineer at the Chevron Richmond Refinery, Cheng initially became a regular at the Oakland science center when he joined the Galaxy Explorers youth program in the 8th grade. After fulfilling the required minimum of 200 volunteer hours, he became a paid intern.
“I would run the wind turbine experiment on the weekend, or help one of the educators run the activity,” Cheng said. “It was playing with efficiency, and playing with electrical circuits, and that’s part of what drove me to electrical engineering.”
Cheng is among countless youth who felt motivated to pursue a career in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) after visiting Chabot, which features hands-on exhibits, telescopes, a planetarium and more in Redwoods Regional Park.
It’s the reason the Richmond Refinery recently sponsored a day trip at the science center for students from three Richmond-area elementary schools — Stege, Lincoln and Verde. The students witnessed live science shows, such as a rocket fuel presentation, worked in astronaut training labs, watched a planetarium show and interacted with a number of hands-on learning activities.
While it was a day trip, the experience was meant to have an impact throughout the school year. During and also prior to their visit, Eric Havel, senior manager of education at the science center, led workshops for teachers to help them effectively bring the center’s lessons into their classrooms. The subject for Havel’s workshop? Yep, the all-inspiring wind turbine exercise.
While the Lesher Foundation sponsors connections to the Space and Science Center for eastern Contra Costa County students, there was a hole in funding for similar connections serving West County students. Lily Rahnema, community engagement manager for the Refinery, and Dan Vanderzanden, a retired Chevron employee and Chabot Center volunteer, connected with the aim of filling that learning gap.
“We are working towards further supporting programs at various levels of our students’ educational journeys, that eventually help provide pathways for Richmond’s young people into STEM careers in the Bay Area, including at the Richmond Refinery,” Rahnema said. “While the majority of our support focuses on high school students, the day trip to the Chabot Science and Space Center is an example of the kind of partnership that enhances learning experiences for even younger students and their teachers both in and out of their classrooms.
Chevron Richmond invests hundreds of thousands annually in initiatives aiming to boost education resources for both students and their teachers, with an emphasis on the subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, which are critical for jobs of the future. Among the programs and initiatives supported are Project Lead the Way, which, like the experience at Chabot, provides professional training for teachers in addition to programming for students. The MESA program, Richmond Fab Lab, Junior Achievement, Fuel Your School and Project SEED are also supported by Chevron Richmond.
Chabot aims for “inquiry based, open ended, child-directed” learning on field trips, said Jessica Horowitz, assistant director of development at Chabot.
Simply the exposure to the center can inspire career paths, as Cheng knows well. He says the collaborative learning that happens at the center, including in the Galaxy Explorers program, has benefits beyond augmenting science education.
“It really helped foster my understanding of what it’s like to work other people, especially here at Chevron,” Cheng said. “There is a lot of communication going on in getting a project done, and that experience helped me in that area.”