ASU STEM organization provides mentorship to local youth

First Gen Scie​ntists helps local at-risk youth get involved in the sciences through weekly after-school programs

First Gen Scientists, an ASU student service organization, strives to teach science, technology, engineering and mathematics, known as STEM subjects, to local children in underserved communities.

FGS began in the fall of 2015 with the mission of serving at-risk children by providing the opportunity to participate in STEM-based activities. The organization hopes to inspire children to pursue the subjects as a passion so that it may eventually become their career, FGS President James Sargent said.

“There’s an ever-increasing demand for people majoring in STEM, and very few people actually make it from high school to a stem career,” Sargent, a senior microbiology major at ASU, said.

Many of the kids in the program already have interests in STEM occupations such as becoming a doctor or a veterinarian.

"We’re in a position to tell them exactly what they need to do to achieve that," said Sargent.

FGS currently offers several activity modules in subjects such as coding, microbiology, neuroscience and robotics, with more in the works. Each module lasts five weeks and gives the children the opportunity to participate in field trips, engage in hands-on activities and listen to guest speakers.

Providing more than just STEM exposure, the roughly 35 active mentors also provide “emotional support and encouragement for the kids,” said Sargent.

“A lot of them come from very disadvantaged backgrounds and consequently they have low self-confidence,” Sargent said. “But if you encourage them enough it’s amazing what they end being able to achieve later on.”

The organization currently offers a yearlong after school program that serves youth out of two Edkey schools — the Sequoia Charter School in Mesa and the Children’s First Leadership Academy in Phoenix — but they're looking to expand to a two to three year-long program.

Cofounder of FGS and former program Personnel Chair Clara Nguyen now works as a teacher at the Sequoia Charter School. She acts as a link between FGS and the school, managing their relationship.

One of the ways Nguyen recruits students at her school is by going to their classes and talking about the many activities they can become involved with by joining the FGS.

"Because the activities are so new to them, and so out of the ordinary, not something they would normally see in the classroom, they tend to be more excited,” Nguyen said. “From that excitement they become more interested in the program.”

Nguyen has noted that involvement in the program has had positive effects on the student participant’s attitudes. 

“A lot of the kids here, when they think about school they think of it as a chore,” Nguyen said. “So to hear them get excited about coming to their learning is good.”

Nitish Peela, senior biomedical engineering major and vice president of FGS, said it is exactly this student transformation that he finds most rewarding.

"Every week they're more excited to come in," Peela said. "Personally, seeing the kids progress is rewarding overall."

The organization is made up of a diverse group of STEM majors. The FGS organization is looking to expand and recruit more ASU STEM majors to participate as both leaders and mentors within the program.

The team said that they want expand beyond ASU and bring the benefits of the program to other students around the valley. Eventually, FGS wants to evolve from a student organization to a completely non-profit organization, Peela said.

"We want to sell our brand of First Gen Scientists to a bunch of other schools around the nation, and have them adopt the same mentality," Peela said. 


Reach the reporter at gabbyt98@gmail.com or follow @GabbyTortorich on Twitter.

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