A new science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) initiative led by Fresno State students is making its way to local schools, particularly those in rural areas where the digital divide is widest.

“It’s about helping those kids who do not have access to the tools,” said Max Tsai, interim director for digital transformation at Fresno State. “We want to show them what’s possible.”

With sponsorships from Chevron and Amazon Web Services, student interns from the Hub of Digital Transformation and Innovation (DXIHub) designed Program C.I.T.Y. (Creativity, Innovation and Technology for Young learners), a project that works to bridge the gap between technology and the traditional classroom with interactive and engaging digital learning experiences. 

Fresno State student Genesis Chinchilla, who led the design effort, said the program’s main goal is to “increase digital fluency in surrounding communities.”

Program C.I.T.Y. was designed to empower fifth- through eighth-grade students in the Central Valley while fostering interest in emerging technologies like virtual, augmented and extended realities, Chinchilla said. Using a simple cardboard scope and a cell phone, students are able to observe lions in their natural habitat, visit outer space and ride the world’s fastest roller coaster. They can learn a new language using a digital augmented reality language book, or investigate parts of a plant cell by taking a walk across the cytoplasm. They can even discover ways to collect renewable energy with classmates.

Other components of the program include a digital library with self-paced learning activities and hands-on learning courses, which will soon be introduced.

Staff and students had the opportunity to take their show on the road in October when they were invited to the STEM exhibit at the Big Fresno Fair.

“Our team was able to connect with many educators, parents and students and got a ton of positive feedback,” said Esuri Peiris, a technology solution analyst at Fresno State. “We had many families visit our booth and, for some, it was their first time experiencing 360 [degree] videos,” she said.

No matter what experience they came with, Peiris added, all young learners and their families were able to come up to the booth, talk with the team and try out the technology, and walk away with a new connection to immersive technology, STEM careers and Fresno State.

Peiris said Program C.I.T.Y. is as much about engaging parents as it is about encouraging kids. She said it’s important for parents to see that these types of technologies, largely associated with entertainment, have applications to career fields like medicine, business and education. One young visitor at the fair said her career goal was astrophysics, so a DXIHub intern showed her a 360-degree video from an astronaut’s perspective during a rocket launch. Both the child and her mother walked away feeling excited about one day attending Fresno State after seeing the technology and the academic opportunities available. 

“That was just one of the many connections we made with our surrounding community,” Peiris said, “and, as we keep growing, we hope for many more.”

Educators interested in bringing Program C.I.T.Y. to their schools can complete an interest form at http://www.programcityonline.org.