UCR Shows Fifth-graders What College is Like

Under the program College Opportunities for All, fifth graders from the San Bernardino Unified School District get a life on campus

Demonstrating the power of electricity to fifth graders from San Bernardino Unified School District are (left) Maria Simani of the California Science Project and (center) senior Andrew Nguyen and (right) sophomore Josia Keagy, both members of the Society of Physics Students.

Brian Zubak teaches fifth grade at Salinas Elementary School in San Bernardino. Five years ago he decided that his students should be exposed to the different kind of future that college represents. Being an alumnus (‘00, B.A. business economics), he chose UCR and its Department of Physics and Astronomy as the destination for his students.

“Our overall goal was to give our kids an experience with college,” Zubak said. “It gets them thinking that this is the option you should take in life. And it’s enjoyable for them. Education is supposed to be fun.”

On Nov. 27, Zubak was back in the Physics Building shepherding a group of 40 excited kids into the Reading Room. They watched demonstrations of electricity and magnetism presented by Maria Simani, director of the California Science Project, and by members of the Society of Physics Students (SPS). The pupils also made small electric motors from simple materials.

“The activities we do are linked to the science that fifth graders learn in the California school system,” said Simani. “We have them do hands-on things that they can take home and show their parents.” Both Simani and the SPS make presentations to K-12 students throughout the year; the physics and astronomy department has a robust outreach program that includes the annual Physics Open House and a Summer Institute for teachers on campus as well as school visits.

Zubak’s program, named College Opportunities for All, has become more elaborate over the years. There are now 120 pupils participating each year, visiting a community college as well as UCR.

At UCR they are divided into three groups, rotating among the departments of entomology, earth sciences and physics, and they all take a campus tour. In addition, the pupils eat lunch with students from fraternity Phi Kappa Sigma and sorority Gamma Phi Beta, who answer a variety of questions from their young guests.

“It’s a growing-up experience for these kids,” said Zubak. “They love science.”

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