PQ Rise: PUC Hosts Inaugural STEM Event for High Schoolers

By Becky St. Clair on August 8, 2019

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For 24 years, PUC has hosted PacificQuest annually during the summer, inviting high-achieving middle school students to campus to participate in various STEM activities to enhance their knowledge and interest. The program was an instant success with both participating teachers and students, and has remained hugely popular over the years. The only downside? Once a student graduates 8th grade, they can no longer attend PacificQuest.

“The PacificQuest students and parents have been asking for years for a similar program for academy and high school students,” says Aimee Wyrick, chair of the department of biology and event coordinator. “With the support of PacificQuest alumni and union schools, we finally had the resources to make it happen this year.”

And so, in July, for the first time ever, PUC hosted PQ Rise, a similar program to PacificQuest, but for high school students.

“I loved the three years of Pacific Quest I did so much, that when I saw an opportunity to do it for another summer, I was ecstatic,” enthuses Sofia Rasi, sophomore at Monterey Bay Academy.

Though she wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, Rasi suspected the classes would be slightly more challenging and the curriculum enriched. She wasn’t disappointed.

“I must say, our activities felt really above and beyond,” Rasi says. “We took field trips and watched exciting demonstrations. My high expectations were definitely met.”

Vola Andrianarijaona, physics professor, covered that portion of PQ Rise, teaching students the physics of sound. They explored wavelengths, the speed of sound, the physics of explosions and implosions, all in the form of experimental and laboratory activities.

“For those who had attended PacificQuest in the past, PQ Rise strengthened their connection to PUC even more,” he says. “I’m always excited to get kids excited about physics, and appreciate this opportunity PUC provides to promote STEM.”

Andrea Vargas, sophomore at Loma Linda Academy, didn’t know what to expect at PQ Rise. She thought maybe there would be an extremely strict schedule, early wake-up calls, and “a bunch of intimidating kid geniuses.” She was pleasantly surprised by what she encountered once the event started.

“All of those absurd notions were anything but true,” she says with a laugh. “I think I can venture to say my week at PQ Rise was one of the best of my life. We had great organized schedules that included a lot of free time to bond with the other incredibly friendly students there, and all the classes were unimaginably good. I learned so much.”

In chemistry, PQ Rise students learned about chemical reactions. PacificQuest attendees have learned in the past about molecular structure, so they simply built on that foundation and explored conservation of mass, balancing reactions, reaction stoichiometry, energy involved in reactions, and rates of reactions. All of this was centered around exploring chemical reactions in the lab.

“The students who come to these events are very bright,” says Kent Davis, chair of the department of chemistry. “PQ Rise is built to stretch them to learn things beyond what they have experienced so far.”

Vargas, who is fascinated by science in general, found herself entranced by the physics portion of the event.

“I was mesmerized by the fact that you can measure the speed of sound, simply by using a frequency generator, a glass tube, some cork dust, and a ruler,” she says. “All of the labs were engaging, educational, and entertaining.”

PacificQuest and PQ Rise aren’t just for students; the teachers who attend go home with new ideas and inspiration for improving their own STEM courses.

“It is also a useful exercise for teachers,” Davis points out, “in figuring out how to teach something meaningful in a few hours to students who have little to no background in the subject.”

Wyrick came out of the event feeling very positive.

“The inaugural 2019 PQ Rise program proved to us that this is a winning idea,” she says. “PQ Rise will continue to provide transformational experiences to this older group of students,” and we’re excited to continue to build it.”

Will the students who came to the inaugural year of PQ Rise return for a second year?

“Absolutely,” Rasi says without hesitation. “I would love to come back for my fifth year of summer STEM at PUC because I have seen how much positive impact this camp has had on my life. I can’t wait for next year!”

For information about bringing students to future PacificQuest or PQ Rise events, contact Wyrick at awyrick@puc.edu.