USC faculty member wins social impact award

The director of STEM education programs at USC Joint Education Project Dieuwertje Kast has worked on implementing the technology in the curriculum of more than 29,000 local students from Kindergarten to Grade 12. 12th grade. (Photo courtesy of Dieuwertje Kast)

Dieuwertje Kast remembers a day in a second grade class where she worked as part of the joint education project where students experienced the wonders of virtual reality for the first time. With a helmet slipping almost out of his face, a student gazed in awe at the safari animals that appeared to be standing in front of him and waved to each as they passed.

Now, will recognize Kast as a recipient of the Social Impact Abie Award for his work in coordinating this experiment by implementing technologies including 3D printing, Raspberry Pi devices and carbon dioxide sensors in the programs of more than 29,000 local K-12s. students. The global nonprofit, which will honor Kast at its Grace Hopper celebration from September 27 to October 1, annually awards five women who have used technology to create social change.

For Kast, these technological devices represent “a big part of the technological future” that many students in low-income communities never get the chance to experience in elementary school.

“We want students to be able to see some of these things so that it is not foreign to them as they continue to have their own educational experience,” Kast said.

As the director of STEM education programs at the USC JEP program, Kast coordinates science and technology programs for low-income schools. JEP, a service-learning program based at Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, places undergraduates in schools, hospitals and nonprofit organizations where they bring the subjects they study into. class in these spaces.

Inspired by her father, who is also a scientist, Kast majored in the biological sciences as an undergraduate student at USC when she started working with JEP. Since his undergraduate studies, Kast has worked with JEP for 11 years.

“Doing JEP myself when I was an undergraduate really opened my eyes to what different people were going through,” Kast said. “I discovered that I liked the science teaching a lot more than the science part, and I wanted to continue to make a difference. “

Darin Gray, director of the Viterbi K-12 STEM Center, recalls a project initiated by Kast in which she asked elementary school students to illustrate their vision of a scientist. The JEP team watched the designs evolve over time, and at the end of the program, the students began to draw scientists who looked like them, rather than “the prototype of the older white man with hair. crazy, ”Gray said.

“When she shared this with me, it was just a fundamental shift in the way we did STEM,” Gray said. “I thought about diversity, equity and inclusion, but I never really thought about the way kids see scientists. They don’t see each other.

Gray met Kast when she started working at USC. Since then, they have grown close enough to have family dinner. Gray even bought a slew of science-themed ties, inspired by Kast’s affinity for science-themed clothing.

“[Kast is] a great human being, and she really cares, ”Gray said. “It shows in the work she does, in the way she behaves and her very willingness to learn and connect with people.”

Kast continually emphasizes the importance of students learning directly from scientists. When one of the elementary schools she works with had a space unit, Kast made it a priority to bring in a number of colored astronauts, including Sian Proctor, the first black female pilot of a spacecraft. spatial. Kast also brought in an astronaut who incorporated art into his career when another student expressed his passion for science and drawing.

“It blew [the student’s] mind, just realizing that there are so many different possibilities, that you can combine your love of science and art, and make a career out of it, ”Kast said.

Susan Harris, executive director of JEP, remembers when Kast connected Vermont elementary school students with astronauts from the International Space Station in real time by attaching a satellite to the school roof. The event required an abundance of coordination: Kast had to bring all the students together at a very specific time while simultaneously broadcasting the event live to all the other schools she had partnered with.

“It was so exciting to see the students respond when they first made contact with the astronauts and to be able to ask questions directly,” said Harris. “[It is] characteristic of the kind of amazing things that [Kast] can succeed effectively.

For the future, Kast wants to develop in education beyond the simple creation of lesson plans and animation workshops. More specifically, she wants to train elementary teachers to teach STEM so that they can pass it on to their students.

“Research has shown that teachers who aren’t comfortable with science and technology aren’t using it in their classrooms,” Kast said. “Especially from Kindergarten to Grade 3, some teachers just skip and kids don’t get a basic science introduction until they’re in Grade 4. So it is already too late.

Kast is the recipient of numerous other science education awards, including the Forbes 30 Under 30 in Science Award and the North American Association Environmental Education “EE 30 under 30 Award” in 2016. When Harris learned that Kast had won the award Social Impact Abie, she “wasn’t that surprised.”

“I mean, his work is amazing,” Harris said. “She is sought after and recognized frequently for her work, so that was another feather in her hat. I’m just incredibly proud of her.

Kast will be recognized at’s virtual celebration, which began on Monday and will run through Friday.

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