Leadership Camps Show Middle Schoolers STEM Possibilities

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Dr. Bala “Vish” Vishwanathan, surgeon at North Central Baptist Hospital, discussed robotic surgery with the students. Photo courtesy of the Alamo Asian American Chamber of Commerce Educational Foundation

The Alamo Asian American Chamber of Commerce Educational Foundation, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, hosted its third annual leadership program for middle school students from June 9 through June 14. The program is modeled after Leadership San Antonio and was jointly organized with Communities In Schools and the UTSA Academy of Leadership and Transformation.

 The main purpose of the program was to provide the students a learning experience and develop an understanding of:

  • Importance of higher education, with a focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics
  • Career opportunities available in San Antonio
  • Leadership – how to be an effective and successful leader in a global economy
  • Living in a culturally diverse community
  • The importance of community service

 The program enrolled 24 middle school students who were selected through an application process. Applicants from Shepard Middle School in South San Antonio Independent School district and Basis Charter School were invited to participate this year.

 As part of the program, the students visited various for-profit and nonprofit organizations during the week, and had the opportunity to interact with some of the key leaders within the San Antonio community.

Leadership students during a trip to Café  College. Photo courtesy Sarit Kapur.

Courtesy / Sarit Kapur

Leadership students during a trip to Café College. Photo courtesy Sarit Kapur.

The program kicked off at city hall on Monday with a powerful and focused one-on-one session with Councilman Ron Nirenberg. Councilman Nirenberg shared with the students why he selected public service over an established career in policy. He spoke frankly about some of the key issues facing the city to include voting, water, growth, jobs, and education.

Later in the day, Eli Embleton, the former CEO of For the Kids Dance Marathon, posed the following question to the students:“What is the difference between the road well traveled and the road less traveled?”

Mr. Embleton incorporated his passion of cultivating the art of paying attention while using poetry as an invitation to experience the things we miss in our busy lives to spark the participants’ creativity. The students ended the day with team building exercises.

Tuesday led the students to Rackspace to learn about careers in computer science and technology. The morning session showed the students the fun working environment at Rackspace. The afternoon session allowed the participants to volunteer at the San Antonio Food Bank. They also had the opportunity to interact with Eric Cooper, CEOwho shared with the students his own personal story about the reason why he does what he does.

 The theme for Wednesday was research. The students started their day off with a visit to San Antonio Water System’s Dos Rios water recycling center and laboratory. SAWS provided great insight on the importance of water conservation and different career opportunities with SAWS. Students learned that San Antonio does not have enough experienced engineers to fill some of the high-paying engineering jobs at SAWS. In the afternoon, students had an opportunity to meet with Dr Gregory Aune, M.D, Ph.D a pediatric oncologist and one of the many physician-scientists at the UT Health Science Center. Dr. Aune, through cutting-edge research, is paving the way for new treatments for cancer patients and survivors.  Dr. Aune candidly spoke with the students about his own personal story and what led him to spend 17 years in research and academics post high school.

Leadership students attend a session at the San Antonio Water Service. Photo courtesy Sarit Kapur.

Leadership students attend a session at the San Antonio Water System. Photo courtesy Sarit Kapur.

Thursday’s agenda lead the students to Toyotawho provided gave students a fun experience learning how Tundra and Tacoma trucks are locally assembled at the San Antonio based Toyota plant. Toyota explained that there are a variety of diverse job opportunities to be secured within their organization.

The students spent the afternoon at UTSA learning about the For the Kids (FTK) Dance Marathon and met with a family that had survived pediatric cancer. FTK is a student-lead organization whose members year-long fundraising efforts culminate in an annual 12-hour dance marathon. Last year alone, FTK raised over $50,000. FTK has grown to become the largest student-run nonprofit organization in San Antonio. FTK aims to ensure that no family has to face pediatric cancer alone, and does this by putting on amazing events for the families and their children to enjoy. The San Antonio FTK takes its inspriation from Thon, a Pennsylvania State University program that has raised more than $114 million since 1977 for the Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Children’s hospital.

Friday was a true adventure as the students got into scrubs to experience robotic surgery at the North Central Baptist Hospital.  The students had an opportunity to meet with Dr. Bala “Vish” Vishwanathan, an accomplished surgeon with more than 20 years of experience. He shared with the students an important life lesson that “before you jump into a career, first define why you want to pick that career”. He also shared how robotic surgery has changed the operating room and healing times for patients.

In the afternoon, the students met Brandy Alger, coordinator for engineering outreach during their visit to UTSA Interactive Technology Experience Center. While exploring UTSA ITEC, the students learned about the engineering elements of robotics.The students then participated in a team exercise where they had to create a chair using just newspaper and tape. Brandy shared valuable information about various scholarships and how engineering graduates earn on average a starting salary of $60,000 per year upon completion of their degree.

The week was full of exciting experiences and personal development for the participants. On Saturday morning, the parents were invited to join the students where students shared their week’s adventures. The students themselves also began to dialogue and reflected on some of the week’s highlights and challenges. They were encouraged to answer many questions that were posed, such as, “What surprised me about this week?”, “What inspired me most?”, “What experiences provided me with a stronger sense of school spirit?”, and “What events opened my eyes to obstacles I face at school?”

Dr. Robert Lengel, the founding director of the Center of Professional Excellence, the executive MBA the leadership challenge program at UTSA,  was present to visit with the students and their parents.

Very often we land in careers we don’t like or are not our passion.  Our overarching goal for the program has been to get middle school students to start thinking about their careers, leadership, and lives at an early age. During the last three years, the program has afforded 75 students a new possibility. The real life experiences have kick-started an inspiring journey. During the upcoming school year, the participants from both schools will continue forging ahead by establishing a student-led organization that ties into the UTSA FTK program. We are proud of all they have done and are excited for what is to come from our future leaders.

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