LEAPS Program Expands Scientific Knowledge of Local Middle School Students

The School of Physical Sciences in partnership with the UC Irvine Center for Educational Partnerships (CFEP) initiated a new outreach program, LEAPS – Laboratory Experiments and Activities in the Physical Sciences, in June 2012. LEAPS offers students from nearby middle schools a “Day at College” experience to increase their awareness and understanding of chemistry and physics. LEAPS is intended to educate students about the opportunities that exist for them, to help them visualize their lives as students at a university, to engage them in hands-on experiences in research labs and provide opportunities to interact with young scientists. During their visit, the students spend one hour in an active chemistry research lab and one hour in an active physics research lab doing hands-on activities and watching demonstrations, have lunch at the freshman dormitory commons, and get an overview and tour of campus.

The first outreach program was a success with 40 participants (6th-8th grade) from Sierra Middle School in Santa Ana, CA. These students are part of the AVID program, and were particularly interested in this experience since their school has limited facilities for scientific experimentation, and science classes are often taught with no laboratory component. Additionally, ten faculty members from the Department of Chemistry and the Department of Physics and Astronomy and over 35 UC Irvine graduate students and postdoctoral researchers participated in the lab sections of the program. UC Irvine also provided several staff members to organize and assess the event. LEAPS will continue into the 2012-13 academic year with one event per quarter. The program is supported by NSF funds with staff and student time provided by the School of Physical Sciences and CFEP.

– Lori Greene, School of Physical Sciences