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Iridescent gets children involved in science

Juliana D. Norwood | 11/17/2010, 5 p.m.

Iridescent is a science-education nonprofit that helps engineers, scientists, and technology professionals bring innovative science, technology and engineering to high school girls, and underprivileged minority children and their families.

Over the last three years Iridescent has done workshops at more than 80 sites in California, reaching 4500 Hispanic and African-American children and adults, and have since expanded to New York and the San Francisco Bay Area. The organization's programs strive to increase participants' interest in science by bringing the most exciting, cutting-edge science directly to underprivileged communities and ensuring the programs have a long-term impact by involving the parents in the learning process.

Through the program, children learn through hands-on experiments such as "Pull Apart" which allows participants to take things apart in order to see how they work.

Tara Chklovski, the founder of Iridescent has an undergraduate degree in Physics, a masters of science in Aerospace Engineering, is part-time faculty at the Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering Department at USC and a lecturer at the Los Angeles Trade Technical College. Chklovski's experience and extensive knowledge of involving underserved communities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), enables her to mobilize hundreds of volunteers to unite for the education of youth.

"It's all about the love of learning," said Chklovski, who came up with the idea for Iridescent when she was pursuing her doctorate in aerodynamics.

Iridescent has trained more than 300 college-level engineering students to mentor nearly 5,000 children, most of them from inner-city schools with limited science programs. Many of the volunteer teachers are USC engineering students.

Iridescent is heavily backed by the U.S. Navy, which provided a $2.3-million grant in hopes of developing future engineers and scientists.

Eddie C. Riley, a spokesman for the Office of Naval Research, said statistics show that students in the United States have been falling behind in science and math for years and that minorities have been historically underrepresented in both areas.

"We're working hard to try to close the gap," he said.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan to the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology reported that only 15 percent of college students declare a STEM major and only 40 percent of those that choose STEM majors during their freshman year actually receive degrees in the field after six years.

Duncan also reported that in science, American eighth graders lag behind their peers in eight countries while 15-year-olds are behind in math when compared with the same age group in 31 countries.

According to the latest figures from the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME), African Americans received 3.3 percent of bachelor's degrees in engineering in 1995 and by 2005, the figure decreased to 2.5 percent.

NACME also found that only four percent of minority high school graduates are "engineering eligible" and just 1.3 percent of the available pool of minority high school graduates earns such degrees from America's colleges and universities each year.

Based on the statistics American youth as a whole, but specifically African Americans, are severely lagging in math and science causing them not to be qualified enough for the highest paying jobs. Organizations like Iridescent are needed and may prove to be extremely valuable at getting our youth interested in science at an early age.