Every week, sophomore Parker Woo finds himself outside Los Altos High School with a collection of boxes, waiting for elementary school parents. These boxes, which contain materials like pipe cleaners and glue, are kits — kits designed and crafted by the Los Altos High School Science Kit club.
As part of the club, members, including Woo, distribute science experiment kits to elementary school students. Founder and Los Altos High senior Michael Young says that the club targets those who are part of groups underrepresented in STEM.
According to the National Science Foundation, women make up 52% of the non-STEM workforce in the U.S. but only 34% of the STEM workforce. Hispanic workers are 18% of the workforce but are represented in only 14% of STEM workers, and Black workers are 12% of the workforce but make up only 9% of STEM workers.
Young first noticed the issue with access to science through online science workshops he volunteered. They required a variety of materials to be accessible at participants’ homes. He said the club aims to break through obstacles that prevent children from accessing science at a young age.
“I kind of felt like that was a really big barrier to how many people are able to … access STEM education,” Young said.
The club sends out an interest form to elementary schools across the city. Over the course of three weeks, the club sends three kits each to the families of 16 elementary school students who fill out that form. Each kit contains the materials and instructions to conduct one experiment, totaling three experiments per student.
Each kit also contains a letter written by a scientist from a group underrepresented in STEM, like women and people of color. These letters describe those scientists’ journeys in science, serving to inspire kids and give them someone to look up to, Young said.
HaNhi Tran, the mother of a kindergartener who received a science kit, said that the club made an impact on her child. Tran comes from a low-income refugee background where she wasn’t able to access opportunities like those the Science Kit club provides. The club, she said, helped to change her daughter’s mindset towards science.
Tran recalled the club giving her daughter goggles to keep at the end of the kit cycle. Gestures like that, she said, made her daughter aware that science was an option for her and built up her daughter’s excitement and interest in the subject.
“At the end of the three weeks, she would say, as one of the things that she wanted to be when she grew up, ‘I want to be a scientist,’” Tran said. “She had never said that before.”
To begin a science kit, the logistics team chooses one experiment from a list of choices prepared by Young. Sophomore Parker Woo, who works primarily in logistics, said these experiments are ultimately designed not just to be educational, but also to show that science can be fun. Some experiments included in kits are creating slime, making stress balls and making elephant toothpaste.
Once the experiment has been decided, the logistics team looks over the materials that the club has access to for the upcoming three-week cycle. Then it’s time for the logistics team to get to work. Team leader Sydney Chang said that before kit cycles, she can usually get everything she needs from a “spree” on Amazon or Walmart.
Meanwhile, the outreach team contacts local college students or graduates in STEM for what Young described as “pen pal” letters. Woo said that the purpose of the science kits is to show kids that science is not only a fun subject, but also a viable career path. Tran said the letters do exactly that: add relevance to the scientific ideas that the kits present.
“I love the profiles because the way that they were written made it really accessible to kids,” Tran said. “I think [my daughter] also loved hearing about the struggles of the scientists in the profile because … it was just a good example of, like, ‘Hey, it’s okay to struggle through something and yet you could still go down this field.’”
To finish the kits off, members assemble them during club meetings by packaging everything in reusable boxes that are sent back to the club after each cycle.
As kits are being prepared, the outreach team emails elementary schools to ask if they can distribute science kits at the school. The team then works with that elementary school to select students who will receive kits based on their interest and their background.
The club structure allows members to move between teams based on the club’s current needs, so Young said most team members shift to logistics to help with assembling the kits during kit cycles. Meetings are fast-paced and everyone is constantly moving, according to sophomore Joseph Gerdyman, who mainly works on logistics.
“It’s really engaging,” Gerdyman said. “You’re always doing something every meeting. It’s not just like a standstill club.”