Highland Oaks STEAM Night

Michelle So, Campus Focus Editor

What do you get when you put a hawk, an astronomer, and a LEGO robot together in a room? An airborne, astral automated phenomenon? Perhaps, but this unlikely lineup provided the perfect entertainment at Highland Oaks Elementary School’s STEAM night on Apr. 27. STEAM, to those unfamiliar, refers not to gaseous water but also to a commonly-used acronym meaning Science Technology Engineering Art and Math. The buzzword has gained popularity recently as a necessary focal point for education.

At STEAM Night, inquisitive young scholars took the opportunity to explore all the different facets of science. Booths organized by the Highland Oaks’ PTA hosted several outside organizations and had a schedule packed with unconventional activities; future chemists concocted colored slime, aspiring astronauts made space-themed buttons, and eager wildlife biologists ogled at tortoises. 

One notable feathered performer was Aspen, a rescued red-tailed hawk serving as an “ambassador” animal for the Wildlife Learning Center. Since being struck by a car, Aspen now spends his days gorging on raw meat and lounging around with his girlfriend, and fellow raptor, Willow. But perhaps the most amusing part of Aspen’s display was when he casually raised his tail and ejected a smelly present onto the stage, receiving delighted little shrieks from the young crowd.

Numerous students stopped by the Arcadia High School (AHS) Science Olympiad booth, the only AHS organization represented at the event. Many had just come from the Wildlife Learning Center’s screech owl demonstration and were then able to flip through a rather large binder of bird pictures to find information on the birds they had just seen.

Another booth run by the Gilb Museum of Arcadia Heritage received numerous visitors who were rewarded for their attendance with free magnets, pens, and “educational kits” discussing the importance of native plants and animals, including one on native birds.

“Admission is free, all the programs at the museum are free,” said Stevy Acevedo, a curator at the Gilb Museum. “We’re here just promoting our events, especially our summer enrichment program, which is available to children ages five to 12.” 

She also mentioned several other programs the museum will host this summer, including preservation workshops for adults, a textiles seminar in July, and—get ready T-Rex enthusiasts—Dino Day in August.

“We have a collaboration with the Museum of Paleontology in Claremont and they bring out some of their fossils for the community to enjoy them,” said Acevedo.

Students then made their way from fossils to something older: the Big Bang. Geovanni Somoza, @telescope_man on Instagram and Tiktok, was busily making space-themed buttons with a hand press. But he was more than willing to talk about his organization, the Planetary Society, whilst doing so. With rolled-up sleeves and a waistcoat covered with astronauts in various positions, Somoza was dressed to entertain and disperse his passion for space. 

The Planetary Society “is the world’s largest non-governmental space advocacy group,” said Somoza. “So we create, educate, advocate, and make our own space missions.”

Founded by astronomer Carl Sagan in 1980, the little-known group has rallied behind major projects, including sending tardigrades, or water bears, to space. But at the moment, the group is more focused on a more ambitious mission.

“Right now, we’re really fighting for a mission to go to planet Venus. It’s very hot—the hottest planet in our solar system,” said Somoza. “Carl Sagan used Venus as his vehicle to write down his thesis work, and we didn’t really understand Venus that much even. We’re talking about 60-70 years ago…We’re only going to learn more if we can visit the planet again. There are some people that think there might be life on the upper clouds of Venus.”

While the Planetary Society carries out its official business, the team running the Highland Oaks booth was more than willing to let kids fulfill their out-of-this-world aspirations with space merch and writing letters that, according to the organizer, will fly out into orbit on the Shepard rocket and back. After a joyride on the reusable suborbital rocket, letters will be mailed back to their return addresses

These community events are such rich and vibrant occasions. Whether you were born around the first Mars landing or when astronauts walked on the Moon, discovering the world of science and technology is never a regret—and the Highland Oaks STEAM Night was no exception!