Teenage STEM students lead nature education at Cabrillo Monument
Most Thursday afternoons this past fall and early winter, Lucinda Anderson, 13, led a bird watching walk for visitors to Cabrillo National Monument. “We have some extra binoculars in case you didn’t bring any,” she reminded the group assembled outside the park’s visitor center.
Lucida is one of a trio of teenage scientists who are apprentices teaching visitors about birds and animals that make their home here on the hillsides of the Point Loma landmark. Maya Pelayo,14, and Mayumi Lorenzo, 16, are the other members of the team. They spend time at the national park supplementing their education and working to conserve the environment.
“A lot of it is studying animals and other plants,” said Lucinda, “while we were preparing for the bird walk, we actually did quite a bit of walking around the park and observing birds and collecting data we could use for this.”
The girls are taught and mentored by park rangers in an informal internship program that grew from the park’s STEM camp held every summer. Apprentices must have interest and be strong in science, technology, engineering, or math.
Samantha Wynns is the lead educator supporting the program. She is committed to demystifying the challenges of science the younger generation will face.
“I like to remind kids that there is a place for them in nature and that nature is filled with wonder and everything in nature happens for a reason,” she said.
Each of the students involved in the program is aware of the climate change crisis and growing pollution problems around the world as well as along the California coast. While giving the bird walk tour, the apprentices find time to encourage visitors to take action in saving the deteriorating environment.
Lucinda said, “The reason why a lot of people aren’t doing anything is because they’re either discouraged that they can’t do anything or they don’t know what to do. So, if we educate more people on what to do, I think that will definitely help.”
Maya is an 8th grade student at San Diego’s Language Academy. She wants to use her apprenticeship to gain experience for a future career as a marine biologist. But as a female of color she also has another agenda.
“My mom’s a scientist and I look like her so it’s nice to see some representation,” she said, “I’d love to see more people who look like me, more girls in general in STEM. I think that would be amazing.”
This is just the beginning of a life-long journey for Mayumi, who has already broken barriers becoming one of the first females accepted by the Boy Scouts of America now known as simply BSA. “I’m very interested in animals. I always have been. I enjoy learning about different animals and how they interact with the ecosystem,” she added.
Come late January and early spring, the apprentices will turn their attention from birds to California gray whales beginning their migrations off the coast of San Diego. Like the bird watching walk that ended for the year Thursday afternoon, they will lead visitors in a whale watching program they design.