Commitment to the Educational Community

CTLO Outreach: Our Commitment to the Educational Community

Since 2012, the Center for Teaching, Learning and Outreach has been serving the Caltech community, ensuring that everyone on campus has access to tools, courses, workshops, workgroups and expertise on teaching, instruction and course design so that excellent instruction is available to all students, and that all students and faculty can learn and improve their instruction. Part and parcel with the higher education-related mission of the CTLO is providing opportunities for outreach, especially into the K-12 community. Pairing "TL" and the "O" allows for an alignment of resources with a shared mission of developing excellence in instruction, and the continued support of an outreach office shows Caltech's commitment to providing as many opportunities as possible for members of the Caltech community to practice their teaching and communication skills with many types of audiences, both on campus and off.

The outreach office also provides opportunities for members of the Caltech community to connect with the broader Pasadena and Los Angeles educational communities and beyond, where Caltech students, postdocs, faculty and staff can share their passion for their research, mentor the researchers of tomorrow, educate the public about important science, engineering, math and other topics, and show young people the diversity of backgrounds and interests that can lead people to these careers. 

The outreach office consults with any individual or group on campus who would like to do K-12 outreach, and we are happy to help develop new programming. In our conversations with many potential outreach volunteers over the years, we often find that people are unaware of the critical needs in the area, so we wanted to give a few pieces of data that we think help people understand how much benefit outreach in the Pasadena community can do. 

Pasadena, Altadena and Sierra Madre share a school district, Pasadena Unified, which during the 2019-2020 school year enrolled about 15,951 students. Because of the high cost of living in the area, and because of the drop in birthrate, the school district has decreased in enrollment by more than 4100 students in the last 10 years. About 30% of the school-aged children in the district's attendance zone attend private, charter, or out-of-district schools, and the average income level of PUSD students is significantly lower than the average household in those three cities. The school demographics (source here) are different from the community at large, as well: 

  • 68% of PUSD students are classified as socioeconomically disadvantaged
  • 14% of PUSD students are English Learners
  • 60% identify themselves as Hispanic/Latinx; 11% as black/African-American; 5% as Asian and 17% as non-Hispanic white. 
  • 1.6% of PUSD students are in foster care, the highest rate of any district in the state, largely because several group homes for foster youth are within the boundaries of the school district
  • 600 PUSD students are served each year by the district office that provides support services for homeless or housing-insecure families

Although "outreach" for our office means partnerships with many schools, districts and other entities, Pasadena Unified is our primary partner. Our longstanding teaching programs - Visiting Scientists at Cleveland and Madison Elementary Schools, and Coders in the Classroom at Jefferson, Longfellow and Webster Elementary Schools - have been valuable both for the Caltech participants, as well as for students and teachers at these schools, which are largely attended by Black, Latinx and other groups minoritized to STEM fields.

Lecture and demonstration series for secondary school students have brought earth scientists to five of the seven middle schools, biogeologists to two of the four high schools, and black and Latinx Caltech students to meet with Black Student Unions and Latin Student clubs on at least two Pasadena campuses. The outreach office also has longstanding partnerships with the college and career academies for engineering at Muir HS, for health careers at Blair HS, and for coding at Pasadena HS, bringing these students to Caltech for summer internships and academies, lab tours and lectures, and sending Caltech students to their campuses for classroom visits and career talks, to judge competitions and to help the high school students develop interview skills. 

Assessments of our programs during the 2018-2019 school year and the summer 2019 showed that the benefits are not exclusively in one direction. We did learn that the elementary students in the Visiting Scientists and Coding in the Classroom increased in their knowledge and understanding of the subjects taught, increased in their awareness of STEM as a career, and enjoyed themselves. Classroom teachers benefitted from these associations, as well, reporting feeling greater efficacy in delivering hands-on STEM instruction. But Caltech participants benefitted, too: in these two programs and in the Science Night program, they reported that they felt more confident as science teachers and science communicators, and that the opportunities to explain basic science concepts forced them to reexamine how well they understood these concepts themselves, or to view them in new contexts. These experiences fed back into their development as researchers, teachers and mentors. Participation in our programs also connects members of the Caltech community to the Pasadena and beyond, giving experiences of Pasadena as a place that is more than just Caltech's location, but a vibrant community with a rich tapestry of stories. 

CTLO's Outreach office stands ready and available to serve the Caltech community and connect its members to K-12 and community groups that are eager to work with Caltech scientists, engineers and scholars. We invite any who are interested in working with our office to contact us and learn more about the existing opportunities or the ideas you would like to bring to fruition. Below are descriptions of some opportunities for outreach over the summer and into early fall. Although Covid-19 has made our in-person work difficult in some ways, creative ideas for virtual programs have allowed us to continue delivering content and connections to our community. We look forward to working with you!