Six years ago, dozens of sixth graders applied to a new joint effort between the 49ers Foundation and the Santa Clara Unified School District (SCUSD). They didn’t know what it was or what would happen, just that they would have a chance to do something completely new and challenging.
“The first thing I was told when I entered the STEM program was, they said, it’s never going to be easy. They said it was going to be worth it,” said Liana, who will attend UC Davis in the fall.
Liana is one 48 Santa Clara High School students who will graduate from the first ever STEM Leadership Institute (SLI). Starting in the seventh grade, the students spent hundreds of hours after school, on the weekends and over the summer dedicating themselves to SLI.
Over the six years, they learned everything from STEM skills to philanthropic giving to soft skills. For many of the students, SLI was lifechanging.
“I would definitely be in a different place if I hadn’t joined SLI in seventh grade,” said Hawk, who will attend UC Berkeley in the fall. “I got to try things like robotics and doing science fair every year. It helped me find like my passions for engineering and biology and how these fields cross into each other.”
“Genuinely, I feel prepared to really go off into the world and just explore. Before, I probably would have been hesitant, but now that I know what I’m capable of because of this program, I think I genuinely feel like I know the road I want to go,” said Sid, who will also attend UC Berkeley in the fall.
“Coming into the program, I was very shy and I didn’t really like stepping out of my comfort zone,” said Medha, who will attend UCLA in the fall. “The soft skills I had gained from the program have helped me so much. I’m sure I never would have been able to speak at the 49ers graduation [event] without all the help that SLI gave me.”
SLI held a special online event for the students on May 29. Students say the virtual meeting was appreciated, though bittersweet.
“It was nice to see everyone there together. Everyone had their cameras on; seeing everyone one last time kind of before summer starts,” said Hawk.
“I was really heartbroken that we couldn’t celebrate it in person at first because it’s kind of a momentous end to our six years, but the video that the staff came up with and all the amazing speakers that we saw, it was it was pretty inspiring,” said Medha.
“It was really great to see everyone on camera even though I would have loved to be sitting with them and celebrating in person. It was important to have that closure for the last six years,” said Vibha.
Vibha received a special honor this spring, the Learn, Lead scholarship provided by the Learning by Giving Foundation. It’s a full-tuition scholarship that will help her attend UC Berkeley in the fall.
“I had never imagined something that fortunate would happen to me. All I could think about when I got the call is how fortunate I felt because of my time in SLI,” said Vibha. “All of my peers, we’ve turned into such emphatic leaders in our community and I know that each and every one of them would have deserved to have this scholarship and do great things. I feel lucky that I had been chosen to continue on this path.”
While the students are going their separate ways, many of them believe that they have made lifelong friends.
“By the time high school came around, these people that surround me, these 60 kids, they easily became my second family. We do everything together now,” said Sid.