What are you passionate about?
In late October, I stood with fellow Bezos Scholar Program alumni in front of a group of two dozen Tokay and Lodi High School students and discussed my passions—a reflection I had last contemplated while attending the Aspen Ideas Festival in 2015.
The group I stood in front of had been brought together to learn from the past to grow to fit the new student vision for the third iteration of the NorCal Science & Technology Festival, a local ideas festival I pioneered with educator Sandra Starr in the spring of 2016.
Bright and early on a Saturday we – high school students, educators, and BSP alumni -- sat in seats of SS-2, the birthplace of the Tokay STEAM Team to help student leaders redefine the NorCal Science and Technology Festival. Amidst the upcoming cross-town rivalry football game, a sense of unfamiliarity seeped throughout the room, but, by the end of the leadership training, we helped this new group of student leaders hone in on their roles within the larger vision and to empower the next generation of scientists and engineers. During the session, committees were delegated and roles were set. Students grew excited with a sense of purpose and an understanding that the power of student voice can create positive community change.
Two years ago, in this same room, my team and I were told to dream big and do what we loved to do (or discover what we didn’t). We started the project as high schoolers with a mission and vision, never knowing that by drawing circuit houses, composing a new song on a vegetable piano, or by stitching funny faces into bananas, we would garner the support from the community.
The first NorCal Science and Technology Festival was a day-long celebration of science that engaged students, teachers, and community members in hands-on learning and attracted nearly 2,000 attendees in its first year and 3,500 in its second. We saw an unfulfilled community need to provide equal access to the sciences and tried our best to show that anyone can be a scientist, whether you were an artist, grandparent, or robotics genius.
Much of our festival was trial-and-error. We combined what we loved to do with what we believed our community needed. And in many ways, my student team members and I were forced to wear all hats: substituting as grant-writers, photographers, curriculum builders, event promoters, and marketing contacts. We were given not only a voice in what our community needed, but an active hand in what we wanted to see, learn, and do to solve this need.
This year, hearing students talk about artificial intelligence, computational Olympiads, and passions for influencing politics with science reaffirmed the need my team and I saw two years ago for science education and empowerment. Looking around the California Central Valley now, STEAM clubs, robotics teams, computer science classes have sprung up; in Tracy, a student began her own mini science festival.
I look back on my memories as a BSP Scholar with both fondness and nostalgia today. Having had this opportunity, and the ability to see an abstract idea turn into a reality and transform with every successive year and cohort, I have been able to grow so much as a student and a leader. I learned skills that will stay with me throughout college and beyond.
Julie Fukunaga is a Stanford sophomore interested in the intersection of technology, urban studies, and social impact. She’s always working on new projects, some of which are relevant to her major of Management Science & Engineering, and some of which are not. She’s currently working on co-teaching an environmental storytelling course, helping form a recorder choir, and researching Franco-Japanese arts and culture as manifested in manga. In her free time, you can find her playing with the Stanford Marching Band or baking for her cooperative house on campus.