Student organization sparks interest in STEAM in high schoolers

Twice a month, USC students meet with high school students from the surrounding area to engage in science, technology, engineering, art and math activities.

These students are part of Project Launch, a semester-long mentorship program that aims to connect USC mentors to inner-city high school mentees. Mentors meet with mentees at least twice a month and help facilitate trips to tech and entrepreneurship hubs in Los Angeles. The mentees are called “rockets” by program leaders to follow with the theme of “launching” into space.

Seventy-five percent of the rockets are female, and all are people of color. In addition, they are some of the most high-achieving students at their respective high schools.

Sarah Wagner, an undecided freshman, heard about Project Launch and shared her excitement about this initiative.

“I think that it is really great that USC students are taking time out of their days to reach out to high school students who might not otherwise have many resources when it comes to STEAM,” Wagner said. “When you inspire a young person, the effects can truly be life-changing, and I’m curious to see what Project Launch is able to accomplish in the years to come.”

The mission of the program is to prepare mentees to be future leaders. In order to accomplish this goal, Project Launch includes four workshops or “missions” that teach skills that are not emphasized in traditional classroom settings such as coding, video editing, working in teams and drafting professional emails. The combination of these hard and soft skills prepares students to enter the entrepreneurial community along with professions in the STEAM field.

Aditya Aggarwal, the current leader of Project Launch, said he aims to prepare high schoolers for their future careers.

“Through Project Launch, I hope to create an effective program that teaches high school students the value of real-world business skills and creativity,” Aggarwal said. “I noticed when I was in high school that it was pretty hard for people around me and myself to explore things like web development, design in [Adobe] After Effects and Illustrator — not because they were tough to learn, but there was no support structure for it. The focus of school was on doing well in subjects like physics, math and acing standardized testing.”

Kai MacLean, a freshman majoring in neuroscience, can relate to the importance of seeing women of color in the field of STEAM.

“As long as I’ve been a student, I have always appreciated the interdisciplinary nature of my education,” MacLean said. “By emphasizing STEAM, I believe that students will be able to explore many different subjects and also receive the benefits of having broad perspectives on the world that surrounds them.” 

Project Launch is executed by SparkSC, an organization that hopes to inspire a culture of innovation, expose students to their creative potential and make connections across diverse communities. Project Launch has also secured a partnership with Microsoft.

Kayla Soren, a freshman majoring in international relations, shared how she recently got involved working with both SparkSC and Project Launch.

“I got involved with SparkSC because I am passionate about entrepreneurship,” Soren wrote in an email to the Daily Trojan. “I was so excited to join Project Launch because I wanted to inspire innovation in high school students. I, like most high school students, never learned about entrepreneurship in school, so I thought this was an incredible program to change that.”

Kayla is currently heading the 100 Pitches initiative within Project Launch, a mini-version of 1000 Pitches Initiative at USC.

“The high school students are collecting 100 ideas from their school to foster the belief that everyone can have a great idea,” Soren said. “Seeing the reactions of the students being excited about entrepreneurship and even many of them saying that they felt entrepreneurship was now their calling was definitely the most rewarding outcome.”