San Diego Shines as STEM Hub

06 Sep 2023

DSEC Partner UC San Diego CREATE Plays Integral Role to Connect and Nurture STEM Students and Educators

DSEC partner UC San Diego CREATE is uniquely positioned to support advanced STEM education in a region jam-packed with essential STEM careers – from biotech to defense to robotics to telecommunications and more. The San Diego region hungers for qualified STEM educators and future job candidates.

UCSD CREATE staff at the <a class="no-ext" href="" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer" />Barrio Logan Science & Art Expo</a> in San Diego, CA

UCSD CREATE staff at the Barrio Logan Science & Art Expo in San Diego, CA

“We see boundaries as a point of contact, not separation,” said Dr. Alberto “Beto” Vasquez, director of CSSI Community Outreach and Engagement at UC San Diego CREATE, which serves as the San Diego hub organizer for DoD STEM’s Defense STEM Education Consortium (DSEC). “Our job is to make important connections in San Diego, build an inclusive culture, and create opportunities for students, teachers, educators and industry professionals to meet and listen to each other—all while providing equitable opportunities to advance STEM learning. We take our role very seriously.”

Opportunities in STEM abound in San Diego and the University of California San Diego is right at the epicenter with almost 90 percent of its 40,000 students studying STEM . Since 1997 UC San Diego CREATE, which stands for the Center for Research in Educational Equity Assessment and Teaching Excellence, has played a unique role supporting local K-20 STEM educators with professional development for K-12 teachers, grant support for faculty and college preparation for students historically underrepresented in STEM.

With DoD STEM support starting in 2019, CREATE has built new connections between San Diego County schools, local community and educator groups, and DoD laboratories – all with an eye toward elevating STEM education in the county, increasing equity and providing more and better qualified candidates to local STEM employers, including DoD facilities in San Diego.

“At the beginning it was particularly eye-opening to learn about the disparities among military-connected students,” said Vasquez. “About how they change schools an average of nine times, not to mention other losses they experience when moving, such as friends, family members, teachers, neighborhoods. As a nation it’s in all of our interest to be globally competitive – at the front end of innovation and discovery. DoD STEM support for CREATE helps us start important conversations and create partnerships and opportunities that ultimately will help protect us as a nation. STEM can change cycles of poverty.”

UC San Diego CREATE is building a dynamic STEM ecosystem in San Diego by expanding programming and opportunities for DSEC partner organizations to join forces with local STEM-supporting organizations whose work might overlap, including museums and non-profits, industry, local government and school districts plus military installations and laboratories involved in educational outreach. San Diego County is home to more than 143,000 active-duty personnel and 240,000 veterans. These figures do not include military dependents. DSEC partners who make up the San Diego STEM ecosystem include MATHCOUNTS, NCWIT, TIES, FIRST, NMSI, and San Diego Miramar College. More information on DSEC partners is available at this link.

A specific program example is the DoD STEM-supported Summer Math Academy for Students and the Summer Math Institute for Teachers, held in schools near Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton and directed by Osvaldo “Ovie” Soto, co-director of the UC San Diego Mathematics Project. Because of a dearth in mathematics teachers credentialed in fourth-year high school math, these summer programs provide important professional development opportunities for teachers to learn by doing and gain immediate feedback from students and teaching partners. Teachers can take what they’ve learned at their academy the previous week, work together to create lesson plans and then implement what they’ve learned right away with students.

“The mission of the UC San Diego Math Project is to create teacher leaders who can help improve instruction quality across the county by leveraging a peer-to-peer model as much as possible,” said Soto. “We seek to identify fundamental mathematical challenges that students have difficulty learning, and then offer professional development to teachers that addresses these specific areas. This is grass roots work that is hard to scale, but the results are so beneficial to everyone. We particularly love that we have more time to focus on reasoning than during the hectic school year.”

Another DoD-supported event is the annual Barrio Logan Science & Art Expo, an inclusive art, science, and culture fair with hands-on exhibits and family activities provided by dozens of companies, public institutions and organizations showcasing their passion for science and art. The event is held in the Barrio Logan neighborhood of San Diego, a region historically underrepresented in quality STEM enrichment activities for students. UC San Diego CREATE and its many partners are working hard to change this.

“Before I started working with DoD STEM, I had no idea about the need in this country for our underserved and underrepresented populations to diversify scientific labs across the United States. If we invest correctly now, their specific experiences, abilities and ways of seeing the world will help protect us from future threats,” said Soto.

About DoD STEM and Defense STEM Education Consortium

Defense STEM Education Consortium (DSEC) is a collaborative partnership of STEM-focused organizations dedicated to addressing and prioritizing our nation's STEM talent. DSEC aims to broaden STEM literacy and develop a diverse and agile workforce with the technical excellence to defend our nation. Through strategic investment in STEM education and outreach activities, the effort will provide students with more exposure to educational and career opportunities as well as DoD research. DSEC is led on behalf of DoD STEM by RTI International.

About CREATE at UC San Diego

Center for Research on Educational Equity, Assessment & Teaching Excellence at University of California, San Diego (CREATE at UC San Diego) works with its campus colleagues and graduate and undergraduate students to leverage their work and energy to engage K–12 students in opportunities to learn. Some outreach programs also support community college students or teachers. CREATE at UC San Diego’s role in DSEC is to build bridges between DSEC partners, DoD laboratories, and its considerable education network in the greater San Diego area.