Easiea’s STEM Riverway

By Richard Parra

Easiea remembers visiting the University of Washington for the first time in the 6th grade. In his words, “I thought it was the coolest thing ever.” He recalls the expansive campus with its domed building that had stars across its ceilings. Above all, he remembers the impressive engineering students who were inventing the future of electric cars.

Campbell Farm is a community center on the Yakama Reservation. It is there that Dionna Estrada, the Program Director, coordinates a STEM & Indigenous Science club where 6th graders from around the area meet twice a week to study science and Indigenous culture. At any one time, about 10-20 students are in the club. Riverways Education Partnerships partners with the club through the Culture & Science Exchange (CASE) program.

Easiea has been going to Campbell Farm since he was 8 years old. His STEM journey began when he participated in the Campbell Farm i-STEAM club, where he fondly recalls doing science projects with his friends. One particular project that stood out to him was the time he had to re-create a planet. He chose Pluto, a controversial choice, we know. Nobody tell NASA lest they revoke our funding. Smiling, he remembers using a disco ball that shone and spun when he plugged it in.

His first interaction with UW was when he worked with visiting UW students to build air-pressure rockets. He tried to bend the fins in order to make his rocket spin, but alas, it did not work out. Nevertheless, he was already demonstrating an innate understanding of, and affinity for, the engineering design process.

Easiea was part of the first group of students who visited the University of Washington via the Campbell Farm and Riverways partnership. For him, the highlight of the visit was getting to meet some UW engineering students who were members of the EcoCAR RSO. The college students exhibited their work on electric cars. He thought that it was the coolest thing and he remembers thinking “I could probably do this. I would have fun doing this.”

“I could probably do this. I would have fun doing this.”

The experience still resonates to this day. He shares “it was so cool how UW students were doing something way back then that has impacted the future. It impacts us now. Just look at us now with Tesla and all of these corporations moving towards electrical cars.”

After the program and the UW campus visit, he wanted to continue to learn about STEM so he pursued opportunities that allowed him to do so. It was this pursuit that led to his participation in the Washington Technology Student Association (WTSA), the WSU Upward Bound program and the WSU Engineering Academy. Easiea believes his participation in the program affected his vision of his future. He says, “Doing the program did help me a lot because before that I didn’t have any programs that taught engineering.” He further elaborates, “after doing the program I was interested in [STEM], and I think it helped me go this way [pursue engineering]. Without it I don’t think I would have gone that way or stayed after school and worked with students to build things.” He was sorry to leave the Campbell Farm i-STEAM club once he’d aged out.

Life tends to come full circle, and this year Easiea returned to Campbell Farm to serve as a Teaching Assistant. He used his engineering and electrical skills to help the students learn how to code, wire LED circuits, and create light-dependent resistor circuits. Easiea stated that helping with the 2021 CASE program took him back to his time at Campbell Farm and made him think of the fun he had. He says “I liked helping them with their projects and learning alongside them.” Moreover, he was able to reflect on the intersection of STEM and Indigenous culture. He shares “when I learned about Indigenous culture along with STEM, I was intrigued by the idea that people would create stories in order to explain things that happened. For example the constellations in the night sky. When it comes to science they are stars millions of miles away, however people of different cultures have created stories that go along with the stars and the patterns they make. For me, I really enjoy stories no matter what it is about, and applying stories to science makes the science topic much more enjoyable.”

Through all of his experiences, Easiea has been able to deepen his knowledge of science and engineering and has discovered a passion for building things. This fall Easiea will be attending Eastern Washington University and pursuing a degree in Mechanical Engineering. From his perspective, Yakima seems to not have a lot of recreational activities to do with friends and families. Everything is either dated, a long distance away, or non-existent. Easiea hopes to use his Mechanical Engineering degree to build or help build something new for Yakima that is fun and that brings life to Yakima.