Building Engineers and Mentors (BEAM) at UCLA was selected by the Volunteer Center Fellows to receive the Spring 2013 Mongelli Award for Excellence in Civic Engagement. Building Engineers and Mentors is a group of students who are not only interested in science, technology, engineering and math, but also have a passion for bringing science and engineering to Los Angeles schools. Founded at UC Berkeley in 2008, BEAM’s core values are passion, diversity, and leadership: “We believe that community service builds strong, empathetic leaders.”
BEAM started at UCLA in the 2010-2011 academic year and was created with the purpose of providing K-12 students engaging activities that promote interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). As an after school program serving Los Angeles schools, UCLA students have the opportunity to go to the schools and teach a hands-on science and engineering lesson. Throughout the six weeks every quarter, UCLA students are able to inspire students at the 9dots Program at Selma Avenue Elementary School, Young Oak Kim Academy, and Aspire Junior Collegiate Academy. A future goal of BEAM is to expand to over 5 locations in a few years.
Mentors pride themselves on their ability to engage students with their fun hands-on activities. Students are able to learn new and exciting science and engineering concepts through the lesson plans that are developed by UCLA students. These mentors are overseen by the Curriculum Team, who not only design new lesson plans and discuss strategies for writing effective lessons, but also brainstorm new ways to provide educational STEM resources to the community.
What is most unique about BEAM is that the lesson plans are personally developed by UCLA students from their personal interests in a certain subject. For example, the lesson plan “Roller Coasters” involves learning about kinetic and potential energy by building marble roller coasters. This lesson plan was developed through the UCLA mentor’s personal interest in roller coasters, and after conducting research on the scientific background, the mentor applied it to the project. According to Jennifer Choi, current Treasurer of BEAM, the mentors “get a lot of liberty on what they want to focus on” – allowing them to demonstrate their passion for science and engineering. A great aspect of these lesson plans that not only are their available to be downloaded for home use but for those who are unable to attend site visits are still able to be involved in the lesson writing process.
With a time commitment of about 4 hours a week (1 hour meeting at UCLA, 3 hours mentoring – including transportation), the BEAM mentors are able to make a huge impact on student lives. Key features that enable such impact are the personal attention that students are able to get from the high mentor-to-student ratio, as well as the consistency of the same mentor for the entire quarter. Another feature is the hands-on learning advocated through the lesson plans. According to BEAM Mentors, it is “amazing how much insight the students have at the age.” The students are able to engage in numerous activities, sparking their own personal interest in science and engineering.
With collaborations with many other science groups on campus, BEAM is able to plan a variety of different lessons for the students. BEAM mentors are now able to receive upper course credit upon demonstration of volunteering and a lesson plan. BEAM hopes to inspire younger students to achieve their goals and further their interest in science and engineering. Learn more about BEAM at their website http://beam.ucla.edu/ and follow their Tumblr blog at http://beam-ucla.tumblr.com/.