Pen Pals Attend Chemistry Magic Show: BUSP Connects Undergrads to Local Students

Students from Woodland’s Lee Middle School were treated to a chemistry magic show during a recent visit to the UC Davis campus. Greg Watry/UC Davis

Chemistry magic dazzled students from Woodland’s Lee Middle School during a recent visit to UC Davis. Clothed in a blue lab coat, safety glasses and purple lab gloves, Assistant Professor Kyle Crabtree, Department of Chemistry, played magician-host to the students gathered in the Life Sciences Building Courtyard. With the help of three UC Davis students, Crabtree conducted explosive demonstrations highlighting the transformative power of chemistry.

The event was not only an opportunity for Lee Middle School students to see science in action, but it was also an opportunity for them to meet their UC Davis pen pals. Since early fall, Lee Middle School students and UC Davis students in the Biology Undergraduate Scholars Program (BUSP) have been exchanging letters.

Connie Champagne
EEOP Director Connie Champagne introduces the Chemistry Magis Show in the Life Sciences Building Courtyard. Greg Watry/UC Davis

Launched in 1988, BUSP has served more than 1,500 underrepresented students in the past 32 years. The two-year program helps new UC Davis students acclimate to college life and gain research experience, providing a helping hand to hurdle the potential pitfalls of academia.

Presenters prepare for a demonstration
Assistant Professor Kyle Crabtree and students get ready for another demonstration. Greg Watry/UC Davis

“Every year, we set up pen pals between the second-year BUSP students and local elementary or middle school students and they exchange letters throughout the year,” explained Connie Champagne, director of Educational Enrichment and Outreach Programs at UC Davis.

The pen pal initiative allows local elementary and middle school students to pick the brains of college students.

“It is vitally important for younger students to identify with students who are a step ahead of them, so that they can be inspired to pursue their education,” said Champagne. “They can see someone that they identify with who’s been successful.”

Exploding balls
Play balls go flying during a chemical demonstration. Greg Watry/UC Davis

Lee Middle School students in attendance Wednesday were from Woodland Joint Unified School District’s Advancement Via Independent Determination (AVID) program. Similar to BUSP, AVID serves underrepresented students to provide the support they need to succeed. 

“We sort of bridge the gap between home and school to put them on a path toward college and career readiness,” said Emily Stewart, a teacher with Lee Middle School and the AVID program coordinator.     

After the chemistry magic show, pen pals, like 13-year-old Ian Garcia and neurobiology, physiology and behavior student Joseph Palacios, met and mingled.  

“We like to give each other advice and motivation about like what type of goals we have,” said Palacios, a second-year student. “Aside from that, we also talk about the NBA because I’m a Lakers fan and he’s a Warriors fan.”

“It’s just good to have someone else to talk to,” he added.

Garcia agreed with Palacios’ sentiments and added that despite college being a handful of years away, it’s beneficial to get an inside view of just how higher education operates –direct from the students.

“In AVID, they prepare us for it,” said Garcia. “I think that’s pretty cool.”

Stay Informed! Sign up for our monthly email newsletter

Ian Garcia and Joseph Palacios
After the chemistry magic show, pen pals, like 13-year-old Ian Garcia and neurobiology, physiology and behavior student Joseph Palacios, met and mingled. Greg Watry/UC Davis