Last weekend, Chapman University and the School of Communication partnered with the Achievement Institute of Scientific Studies (AISS) to host the inaugural AISS Chapman STEM-C INSPIRES Weekend Academy. This kick-off event marked the beginning of a seven weeks-long summer training and an overall two years-long program (called the AISS College to Career Readiness STEM Program) for local high-achieving low-income high school students in the Santa Ana Unified School District. The overall aim of the two year program is to work with economically disadvantaged high school students to enroll in colleges or universities studying science, technology, engineering, and/or math (STEM). Partnering with the School of Communication, AISS incorporated Communication Skills into their training, thus the C in STEM-C!

At the four day weekend INSPIRES event, students and their parents were introduced to integrated STEM pathways via innovation research engagement and support (INSPIRES) as well as what the commitments of a scholar entail. On Friday, students were welcomed at Chapman in an orientation to their program that included an AISS OCHCC Mixer sponsored by the Cross-Cultural Center, as well as a STEM panel dinner event hosted at the Fish Interfaith Center. Saturday had students engaged in a day full of beneficial workshops regarding both communications and STEM activities. Parents were welcomed to the university on Sunday, where they attended a Parent Conference that provided them with information on both the university and the AISS program. The last day of the Weekend Academy transitioned students into their first day of AISS classes, where they received a brief introduction to various AISS subjects.

Students and their parents at the Parent Conference.

Last weekend marked an event that took a full year to coordinate. In 2016, upon his arrival as a faculty member, Chapman graduate Oliver Lopez, Ph. D. pitched the weekend event to Dean Sparks. In the past, the presence of AISS on campus was limited to an all day Parent Institute. This year, campus programming was expanded to include an additional three days worth of immersive workshops on communication, networking, and activities that introduce the scholars to individuals they will be working with and learning from throughout the summer. The School of Communication was one of the first organizations on campus to get involved. Now, in addition to the SoC, AISS has built partnerships with Schmid College, the Admissions Office, the Latinx Staff and Faculty Forum, individuals from the Argyros School of Business, and individual staff members from throughout campus, said Lopez. 

While AISS traditionally focuses on a STEM academic plan for their scholars, the School of Communication’s partnership was put to good use during the weekend. On June 23rd, SoC faculty hosted a Verbal Communication Project Workshop that helped students develop elevator pitches and personal profiles to assess their strengths and weaknesses, as well as to analyze their career goals. Chapman graduate Caitlin Hawekotte of Collaborate with Cate Consulting, led a Written Communication Workshop on Saturday, where scholars learned to clearly and concisely put their thoughts to paper in a professional manner, said Executive Director (and Chapman alumnae) Debbie Wells. According to Communications Coordinator Jennifer Fontanilla, the School of Communication’s involvement was instrumental in last weekend’s success since, “communication is a big part of business so [AISS] wants to make sure the kids learn how to write whatever it is they are trying to communicate. It was also important to bring up the awareness and importance of communication to STEM, and was really great to put together STEM-C to overlap the two disciplines.”  

Scholars in their first Weekend Academy class.

AISS was founded in 1997 by retired Santa Ana Unified School District educator and administrator Paul Riordan. The students in the original pilot program participated in 120 academic seminar hours in industry workshops involving digital imaging, laser medicine, graphic design, optics manufacturing, and engineering research. At the completion of the program, students were accepted into universities such as University of California Irvine, Columbia, MIT, Chapman, and Yale. The program methodology of applying exposure to STEM careers, coupled with the financial support and college readiness guidance, has created over 152 program scholars with 100% graduated program participants accepted into the finest colleges and universities in the country.