Objective: Foster curiosity and inspire self-confidence in young people with limited access, unlocking doors to their futures and preparing them to help solve the world’s most pressing issues.
In a Nutshell: Iridescent’s approach is to use a three-pronged strategy of 1) taking the most exciting, cutting-edge science directly to underprivileged communities; 2) ensuring the program has long- term impact by involving the parents in the learning; and 3) taking valuable social capital in the form of engineering mentors and role models to these communities.
Iridescent’s three core programs, Engineers as Teachers, Family Science, and Technovation Challenge, all received a major boost with the announcement of a $7.8 million federal grant this year to support their existence and growth in all three areas. In Engineers as Teachers, engineers – both credit-earning students and volunteer professionals – teach lesson plans to Iridescent students, grades 3 to 7. In Family Science, students and their parents together receive science lessons that seek to show practical applications, and parents receive materials to continue education for their children at home. Technovation Challenge is an entrepreneurial/mentorship/computer science program in which high school girls take a nine-week course in Android App programming.
Where It Happens: The programs take place at 50 partner schools throughout Los Angeles and 30 in New York City and at a science studio in downtown Los Angeles. The program also works with 20 northern California high schools.
When it Began: January 2007.
Who Started It and Who Runs It: Tara Chklovski, Iridescent’s president, founded the program to pursue her passion of combining art and science and to share it with the public. Chklovski – who has an undergraduate degree in physics and an M.S in aerospace engineering and is a part-time faculty member at the Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of South California and a lecturer at the Los Angeles Trade Technical College – has increased Iridescent’s impact by relying on technology, partnerships, evaluation and volunteers.
Twelve paid staff members function as a team, with no set hierarchy. The staff members, more than half of whom have master’s degrees in education or engineering, includes an operations director and recruitment director in northern California; an operations director, director of engineering curriculum, researcher and program director and engineering director, all in Los Angeles; and a director of engineering and director of outreach and partnerships, both in New York. Iridescent also has an accounts manager, comptroller and contracts manager, all based in Los Angeles. At any given time there are more than 30 volunteers among the three locations.
Obstacles: “Scalability and maintaining program integrity is our largest obstacle in expansion,” said Vanessa Garza, Iridescent’s operations director. “Our model of inquiry-based, hands-on science requires tremendous support from a volunteer base and a core team to run the programs effectively.”
How It Overcame Them: To tackle the challenges associated with large-scale expansion – culminating in the planned Nov. 4, 2010, launch of a Los Angeles science studio called Iridescent-ONR (Office of Naval Research) – Garza said Iridescent’s staff looked internally at its proven models in Los Angeles. “Los Angeles is the original site that has tested, documented, and developed the core programs. Our team consisted of four paid, full-time staff until the summer of 2010 [when staff tripled to 12]. This rapid expansion called for the first Iridescent National Summit. We’ll conduct another summit in January 2011 to assess our growth and plan accordingly to ensure our model is sustainable.”
Cost: The 2010 budget is roughly $500,000. This was a major increase from the 2009 operating cost of $113,000, due to two federal grants totaling $9.3 million over the next three to five years.
Who Pays: Principal source of funding is at the federal level, with a $7.8 million grant from the Office of Naval Research and $1.5 million from the National Science Foundation for a longitudinal study of the family science program.
Who Else Has Kicked In: Professional firms – such as Google, Microsoft and Factual – and the University of Southern California.
Youth Served: Most students are from the third through fifth grades at poor-performing, Title I schools and their parents have little formal education and do not speak English. Since 2007 the three regions have combined to serve 5,000 children and family members.
Youth Turn-On: “The access to real engineers and working together with them on complex science concepts in a fun, hands-on way are the features they appreciate the most,” Garza said.
Youth Turn-Off: “Some of the technical language from the courses taught and sometimes the challenge of the design-based experiment are what they find difficult. It takes persistence to be successful,” Garza said.
Research Shows: In a parent survey of Family Science participants released this year, more than 80 percent of parents said the program had a significant impact on their child’s interest in science, more than 70 percent said it significantly impacted their ability to help their children with science homework and more than 80 percent said it impacted their child’s interest in pursuing a science career – either moderately or significantly.
What Still Gets in the Way: “Coordinating the operations and logistics at each school site,” Garza said. “All sites are unique in terms of campus configuration and school leadership.”