Chemical Circus! Increasing the STEM Pipeline through Service Learning

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Chemical Circus! Increasing the STEM Pipeline through Service Learning

United States
Organization type: 
$1,000 - $10,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

For the U.S. to be remain competitive in STEM fields, the youth of our nation must be attracted early and retained until they complete college. The goal of the Chemical Circus, a program developed by the Chemistry Department at the California State University, Bakersfield (CSUB), is to engage community children (a large majority of which are underrepresented minorities from low income families) in high impact learning experiences in the sciences. This will build a strong pipeline of K-12 aged students from diverse backgrounds that are interested in majoring in STEM fields at the college level, while at the same time providing meaningful service experiences for our undergraduate students to increase retention and learning in the chemistry major.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

CSUB is located in Bakersfield, California, the county seat of Kern County. Kern High School District is the largest high school district in the state of California (37, 928 students) with a diverse population of 59% Hispanic/Latino students, 32% White students, 7% African American students, and 2% students of other ethnicities (2009-2010 data provided by the California Department of Education). Additionally, 61% of students were identified as socioeconomically disadvantaged. The California Standards Test Summary Report indicates that students in Kern High School District performed lower compared to other students in the state in science and mathematics. The large minority population, high level of poverty, and below average test scores of high school students in Kern County represent a significant opportunity for community outreach projects. Additionally, unemployment rates in Bakersfield are currently at 17.0% (January 2011 data according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics). In light of these extremely high unemployment rates (compared to the California’s unemployment rate of 12.4%), we hope that promotion of STEM fields and chemistry education among the community may assist in combating unemployment in the region.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

The Chemical Circus seeks to increase the pipeline of students to colleges and universities that are interested in majoring in STEM fields, while at the same time enhancing the curriculum for our undergraduate chemistry majors. This program targets a highly diverse population of local youth (according to 2009-2010 data provided by the California Department of Education, 66% of students in Kern High School District are underrepresented minorities) and undergraduate chemistry students (49% female, 27% Hispanic/Latino). The uniqueness of the Chemical Circus lies in using undergraduate students to educate younger, K-12 students, thereby enhancing the education of both groups of students in one fell swoop. Chemistry Department students will help to develop fun chemistry demonstrations and hands-on activities for the Chemical Circus, and then work directly with the youth to show them how exciting chemistry can be. A few chemistry departments are similarly engaged with the community. However, the goal of our department is to eventually make participation in the Chemical Circus, or similar community engagement projects, a requirement for all chemistry majors. This, to our knowledge, is unique. Our department now totals 130 undergraduate students, providing (at full program implementation) a large number of chemistry students to contribute a needed service to their local community. Further, we will serve as a community engagement role model to other departments at CSUB in addition to chemistry departments at other universities.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

The Chemical Circus is a series of engaging, entertaining, and educational chemistry activities developed by the CSUB Chemistry Department to promote interest in chemistry amongst local youth. A Chemical Circus session consists of one or two demonstrations performed by trained faculty and students, followed by a safe, hands-on activity. Youth can participate in the Chemical Circus through different avenues: • Department faculty and Bakersfield Adventures of the Mind (BAM) have developed outreach programs in Kern County school districts in the form of science clubs. Chemical Circus activities are often a part of monthly science club meetings. • We have brought Chemical Circus activities to a local Boys and Girls Club of Kern County site during Spring and Summer breaks. This program will be extended into the school year and additional sites will be added. • We will bring the Chemical Circus into high school classrooms via our strong working relationships with local teachers. Undergraduate students contribute to the Chemical Circus by assisting in project development, performance of chemistry demonstrations, and conducting hands-on activities with children. Participation is beneficial to undergraduate students for a variety of reasons: • It provides them with opportunities to teach and mentor K-12 youth about chemistry, reinforcing concepts they have learned. • They will learn leadership skills and the importance of community-based work. • The experience and skills gained will enhance their resumes, illustrating their dedication to employers and graduate schools.
About You
California State University Bakersfield, Department of Chemistry
About You
First Name


Last Name


About Your Organization
Organization Name

California State University Bakersfield, Department of Chemistry

Organization Phone

(661) 654-3027

Organization Address

9001 Stockdale Highway, Bakersfield, CA 93311

Organization Country

, CA, Kern County

Country where this project is creating social impact

, CA, Kern County

How long has your organization been operating?

More than 5 years

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What stage is your project in?

Operating for less than a year

Share the story of the founder and what inspired the founder to start this project

The Chemical Circus was developed by the CSUB Chemistry Department faculty. These “founders” are committed to excellence in teaching, dedicated to the success of their students, and strive to increase interest in STEM fields in general, chemistry in particular. The chemistry faculty have a long history of participation in community outreach and engagement activities. The Research Experience Vitalizing Science-University Program (REVS-UP) is an excellent example. REVS-UP provides hands-on research experiences for local K-12 teachers and high school students during the summer with the goal of increasing interest in STEM fields. The chemistry department has participated in this program since its inception in 2007, and the chair of the chemistry department is the program director.

Recently, the department applied and was accepted to The Engaged Department: Institute for the Sciences, a three-day workshop developed by the California State University Center for Community Engagement in partnership with Learn and Serve America. At this workshop, Chemistry Department faculty, the Faculty Coordinator of the CSUB Center for Community Engagement & Career Education (CECE), and representatives from established community partners (BAM and the Boys and Girls Club of Kern County), learned how to incorporate community engagement into the chemistry curriculum and developed a plan for implementation. Additionally, faculty member Dr. Danielle Solano has applied to and been selected for the 2011-2012 CSUB Community Engagement Fellows program, which provides funding and additional training.

Social Impact
Please describe how your project has been successful and how that success is measured

The success of our project will be determined by a number of factors:

• Youth Response – We have already observed enthusiasm for Chemical Circus activities via comments from children such as, “This is cool!” and “Can we do this again?” Such responses indicate that youth are already developing more of an interest in science.

• Questionnaires – As a more quantitative measurement, we are currently developing brief questionnaires to assess youth participants.

• Participation – At locations such as the Boys and Girls Club where a number of activities are going on at once, we can monitor youth interest by headcount and percentage of students participating in the Chemical Circus as compared to other activities.

• Long-term tracking – We hope to be able to follow our youth participants as they graduate from high school and determine if we see an increase in college-going rate as well as likelihood to major in a STEM field.

We will also be looking at success of the project in terms of goals for our chemistry undergraduate students:

• Reports – Students will be asked to write a formal report on their experiences and what they have learned.

• Student enrollment and retention – We hope to see an increase in chemistry majors as well as an increase in the number of majors that graduate from our program.

• Performance on American Chemical Society (ACS) exams – Our students take standardized exams in a variety of chemistry courses. We will evaluate whether students participating the Chemical Circus perform better on these exams other students.

How many people have been impacted by your project?

How many people could be impacted by your project in the next three years?

101- 1,000

How will your project evolve over the next three years?

In our first year of undergraduate participation in the Chemical Circus, students from our department’s Chemistry Club have assisted in the development of demonstrations and hands-on activities, and participated in site visits. We will conduct a pilot program in the winter quarter that incorporates community engagement into an undergraduate course to increase student participation.

Future efforts will incorporate Chemical Circus participation into other courses. We will continue our work with BAM and the Boys and Girls Club, adding additional sites where possible, and expand the Chemical Circus to local high schools. Further, we intend to share our efforts with other STEM departments at CSUB, and ideally, the Chemical Circus will eventually become part of a larger “Science Circus.”

What barriers might hinder the success of your project and how do you plan to overcome them?

The largest barriers facing our project are funding and faculty workload. While the Chemistry Department can provide a steady stream of basic funding, state cuts to the CSU budget will keep this amount at a minimum. If the CSU budget does heavily disadvantage the Chemistry Circus, we will only be able to conduct the most cost effective demonstrations and hands-on activities. Additional funding would support some of the more expensive demonstrations/activities, and allow for the development of new experiments/activities. Finally, the chemistry faculty have a heavy teaching load in addition to research and other demands. As the faculty are currently key leaders in this project, training senior undergraduate students as programs leaders and assistants will be extremely important. We intend to add a new course to our curriculum so that students can earn credit for holding such positions. Additionally, funding would allow us to pay students holding these positions.

Tell us about your partnerships

BAM is a project adopted by the Chancellor’s Office to promote STEM fields in the local community via a science center on the CSUB campus. While planning and construction of the science center are on-going, chemistry department faculty and BAM have developed outreach programs in the form of science clubs; several have already been established in Kern County school districts (Bakersfield City, Fruitvale, Panama-Buena Vista, and Rosedale). The chemistry department currently brings the Chemical Circus to monthly science club meetings.

The CSUB Center for Community Engagement & Career Education (CECE) has had a long-standing partnership with the Boys and Girls Club of Kern County. While the Chemical Circus has been brought to local Boys and Girls Club sites, these occurrences are not regularly scheduled. The CECE is working underway to create a monthly “CSUB Day” which would feature students and faculty members from a different CSUB department each month. This would allow for a regular appearance of the Chemical Circus at local Boys and Girls Club sites. Chemical Circus demonstrations and activities are also planned for the Boys and Girls Club’s annual Kid’s Day in September.

Faculty members in the chemistry department have developed strong working relationships with local high school teachers (Kevin Danley, Regan Rostain, and Sam Yoon) through participation in the REVS-UP program. These collaborations have focused on the common goal of increasing local student interest in STEM fields and will further the expansion of the Chemical Circus into the high school classroom.

Explain your selections

Currently our project is largely supported by Chemistry Department funds, which is received from the California State University system. Additionally, faculty member Dr. Danielle Solano has earned funding support as part of the 2011-2012 CSUB Community Engagement Fellows program.

How do you plan to strengthen your project in the next three years?

Our efforts in the next three years will focus on the following:

• Incorporating a community engagement requirement into our major curriculum – Adding service learning into our courses will provide the steady stream of students participating in the Chemical Circus. This will give us the human resources that we need for the success of our project.

• Development of new demonstrations and hands-on activities – We have already had success using Chemistry Club students to assist in the research and development of new chemistry demonstrations and hands-on activities appropriate for youth. Additional funding and student participation will greatly further these efforts.

• Formalizing relationships with community partners – While we have already developed good working relationships with our partners, we hope to strengthen these ties by formalizing our relationship. This means coordinating regular sessions where undergraduate students will bring the Chemical Circus to youth sites. Additionally, we will have student leaders work directly with BAM and Boys and Girls Club staff to ensure that the demonstrations and hands-on activities are appropriate.

• Recruiting other departments – As our project grows, we hope to incorporate other CSUB departments to participate. This will provide youth with exposure to other STEM fields, as well as provide additional undergraduate students and faculty to assist with project development.

Partnerships and Accountability
Please tell us more about how your partnership was formed and how it functions. What specific role does each partner play? What unique resources does each partner bring to the initiative?

The CSUB Chemistry Department consists of nine faculty members. We are an extremely cohesive group and work well as a team. While the faculty and the Chemistry Club have long been involved in community outreach efforts, we saw The Engaged Department: Institute for the Sciences as an excellent opportunity to learn about incorporating community engagement into our curriculum and formalizing our casual partnerships. The department has chemistry expertise in a variety of areas, as well as extensive experience in research, teaching, and assessment of student learning outcomes. As part the Institute application process, we have formalized partnerships with the following people/groups.

• CSUB Center for Community Engagement & Career Education (CECE) – We have developed an excellent working relationship with the Faculty Coordinator of the CSUB CECE (Dr. Tanya Boone). Dr. Boone has worked closely with faculty to incorporate community engagement into courses. In addition to her expertise in the area of community engagement, Dr. Boone connected us with the Boys and Girls Club of Kern County and works with a number of other community partners that may wish to participate in our program.

• BAM, The Boys and Girls Club of Kern County, and local high school teachers – Our community partners provide us with an avenue to reach the youth population and additionally, offer their expertise in working with children. They understand which projects and demonstrations that our target audience will find most appealing and know how to “disguise” learning in a fun way.

How are you building in accountability for students' successful STEM learning outcomes? Please provide a summary and examples.

Our learning outcomes for community children are as follows:

1. Develop and demonstrate an interest in the sciences
2. Respect, but not fear, chemicals
3. Learn environmental responsibility
4. Recognize chemistry as part of their life
5. Learn to handle chemicals safely

We are currently developing brief questionnaires to assess youth participants in their attainment of these outcomes. These questionnaires will include questions such as, “Would you like to learn more about science?” and “Do you think chemistry is important?” Youth would complete a questionnaire both before and after a Chemical Circus session to determine effectiveness of the activities presented. Additionally, we will be monitoring comments and responses from youth to our demonstrations and hands-on activities.

Our learning outcomes for chemistry undergraduate students are as follows:

1. Communicate chemical principles to non-chemists
2. Apply chemistry knowledge to community problems
3. Engage in community activities
4. Demonstrate the capacity for life-long learning
5. Develop and demonstrate a thorough knowledge of self
6. Demonstrate an understanding of cultural and ethnic diversity (including needs and opportunities existing in the community)
7. Learn to handle chemicals safely

Students will be asked to write a formal report on their experiences with the Chemical Circus addressing what they have learned, including several of the above outcomes. Further, we will be monitoring student satisfaction with the Chemical Circus and willingness to participate in community outreach activities after their initial experience.


Investment, Marketing/Media.

Please use this space to elaborate on your selection above and/or to add needs that may not be listed.

Financial assistance would greatly further out efforts. Additionally, any community resources that could market our program to any potential donators would be appreciated.


Human Resources/Talent, Innovation/Ideas, Mentorship.

Please use this space to elaborate on your selection above and/or to add offers that may not be listed.

We have a number of undergraduate students that we are training to perform Chemical Circus demonstrations and experiments. We would be happy to bring the Chemical Circus to any local organizations. Additionally we would happy to share the demonstrations and experiments that we have developed with other groups.