Cal State LA LAunchPad Program Inspires STEM Careers for Young Women

Building rockets, creating solar powered cars, and networking with industry professionals were just a few of the activates for young women participating in Cal State LA’s LAunchPad Summer Program.

Now in its third year, the program brought together 50 high school women from 23 high schools throughout Southern California that serve diverse student populations and industry professionals working in STEM-related careers. This free two-week in person and virtual program at Cal State LA allows students to explore exciting ways engineering and computer science make the world a better place. Students got a chance to discuss hydrogen mobility, renewable energy, and participate in the SAE A World In Motion® (AWIM®) Fuel Cell Challenge. The goal of the program was to increase the low percentage of women in the LA area who pursue careers in STEM.

SAE Foundation trustee Dr. Anita Sengupta kicked off the event on day one and shared her journey into STEM. As a minority woman small business owner, Anita feels a personal responsibility to share her growth journey, from working for the space program to being an entrepreneur. Itzel Santamaria, a student at Wallis Annenberg High School stated “She actually worked on the Mars Rover. Getting to know people who have done such cool things was so cool!” After talking with industry professionals and completing the program, Itzel’s expressed her interest to pursue engineering.

During the AWIM Fuel Cell Challenge, students constructed a standard model Fuel Cell vehicle to test hydrogen production and energy consumption using a PEM (Proton Exchange Membrane) fuel cell as they built knowledge through collecting research data.

The women also got to work closely with Cal State LA LAunchPad program alumni, providing invaluable mentorship and support. To help boost student confidence and enhance their problem-solving skills, mentors encouraged participants to work together within their teams to find solutions while also providing assistance if they saw someone struggling.

Sonya Lopez, Civil Engineering Associate Professor at Cal State noted “I have sat through the culminating presentations throughout the years and this year’s groups were so excited to share their design and race statistics to the judges. The judges did consider how many rotations their fuel cell car completed, but the presentation was mostly judging their ability to present their findings and enthusiasm about the work. It was a difficult project to judge because you could tell everyone really enjoyed what they created, and the teams appeared more connected than in previous years.”

When asked if Chris Bachman, Faculty member at Cal State LA, saw students incorporating any learnings from the Fuel Cell Challenge, he added “A lot of teams interact with each other sharing new ideas throughout the program. All are very curious about what the other teams are doing and asking lots of questions.” Chris saw a shift in students’ attitudes towards STEM; the students discovered STEM can be fun and exciting. This led to students considering careers in STEM after high school.

Cal State LA has clearly established a successful, engaging STEM pipeline program with LAunchPad.

“It’s extremely rewarding to see students’ excitement as they gain confidence, discover career opportunities, and see themselves through the learning experience. It is our privilege to work alongside partners like Cal State LA to change perceptions and ignite STEM potential,” concluded Lori Gatmaitan, Vice President SAE Foundation/Group Diversity Officer.

Contact to learn how you can get involved to bring the AWIM learning experience to more students as a corporate partner, donor, or volunteer.

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