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Sparky’s Virtual Experience helps high schoolers learn more about ASU degrees

A high schooler's hands working on a laptop
May 20, 2020

Access ASU is offering a number of virtual sessions for eighth- to 10th-grade students across the United States through a new college readiness program called Sparky’s Virtual Experience.

These sessions provide high school students the opportunity to learn more about the hundreds of degree programs offered at ASU, connect with student success resources and services, and engage with their peers from the comfort of home. 

The sessions are presented in three categories: STEM, business and technology, and interdisciplinary studies. Each session will be offered twice and will be hosted over the course of two weeks, with students participating in workshops for three hours each Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

ASU Assistant Vice President of Outreach Partnerships Lorenzo Chavez said the events are an opportunity for students and families to gain invaluable insight into what college programs exist here at the university. 

“While we will not be hosting in-person summer programs, ASU is still making sure that families have access to the information they need to make decisions about higher education opportunities and ensure the safety of our students and families,” he said. “And this year people don’t have to travel to or within Arizona to get that preview of both ASU and different majors.”

The virtual workshops are being presented using Zoom and feature activities to engage students, promote discovery and provide Q&A opportunities with current college students and professors. Students will have the chance to learn about student organizations and life on campus, as well as the requirements and career opportunities for each degree program.

The program launched in early May with the presentation of the first STEM session, facilitated by the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. In this session, students participate in a number of engineering challenges and activities.

“One of our overarching goals is to broaden participation in STEM by developing a sense of engineering identity in young people. Sparky’s Virtual Experience aligns well with that,” said Jennifer Velez, the senior program coordinator with the Fulton Schools’ outreach and recruitment.

According to Velez, some of these activities include engineering design challenges, which will incorporate easily accessible materials students can find around their homes. One of the biggest projects students will have the chance to work on will be virtual and serve as an introduction to coding.

Using the program Scratch, students will create animated projects that, according to Velez, will represent “something fun that they learned during Sparky’s Virtual Experience.” 

In addition to participating in hands-on activities, students also get a chance to interact with a number of college students not only from the engineering program but from other educational backgrounds as well. 

Each session has undergraduate ASU students known as Gold Guides helping to lead the events. These Gold Guides are on hand to help welcome the middle and high school students, answer any questions they might have and ensure that the workshops run smoothly.

“I think it’s important for young people to hear from someone who is a college student,” Velez said. “That’s probably a really critical piece to all of this is the fact that they get to engage not only with our engineering students but with students who are working with (Educational Outreach and Student Services) as well.”

These guides are typically at new-student orientations and around campus the first week of school helping new students get adjusted. They play the same role at the virtual events.

“My job as a Gold Guide is to be a welcoming face at Sparky’s Virtual Experience,” sophomore Emilia Banuelos said. 

Banuelos is studying family and human development and speech and hearing sciences. With this event, she is finishing up her first school year as a Gold Guide. Banuelos said she believes the virtual format has many benefits for the participants and their families. 

“It’s a good first step to finding out what ASU has to provide for students. It's really informational,” she said. 

The initial session focused on STEM ended May 15, and the next STEM session will be offered June 15–26. A business and technology session will be offered July 6–17. The first interdisciplinary session will be presented June 1–12 and again July 20–31. 

More information about the event schedule and instructions on how to register can be found on the Sparky’s Virtual Experience page.

Written by Marisol Ortega, Sun Devil Storyteller

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