CAUSE program brings STEM to life through meaningful experiences

The PSEG Foundation celebrates STEM Month by highlighting two students in one of the many STEM programs that it supports.

Jackelyn Valerio graduated from the CAUSE (Community And Urban Science Enrichment) program in 2022. Valerio has been active in local watershed conservation education since her graduation. She is currently an educator with the Center for Aquatic Sciences, where she shares her passion for environmental conservation with students and families in Camden. Valerio attends Camden County College, and plans to transfer to a marine biology program after two years at CCC. Below, Valerio reflects on her CAUSE experience.

How did CAUSE expand your knowledge of science?

CAUSE has expanded my knowledge of science by introducing me to various scientific terms, concepts and locations. I was recruited into the CAUSE program when I was in eighth grade and, since then, I’ve been coached into understanding the anatomy and behaviors of multiple animals, the environments they live in, and gained insight into the environment we live in. 

How has CAUSE inspired your future career/life plans and goals?

CAUSE has inspired my future career, life plans and goals by inspiring me to transition my career to marine biology. The CAUSE program was full of positive experiences that have enabled me to feel more confident as I advance to the next stage of my life – pursuing my newly established passion for aquatic science.

Why is it important to have programs like CAUSE?

In this community, specifically, as people reach the age of curiosity and become more independent, they need to know who their community advocates are and who they can look to as role models. Teenagers need an outlet to explore and better themselves, and I feel programs such as CAUSE provide exactly that.

Nasir S. is a fifth-year CAUSE student who will graduate from high school this spring and spend the summer working with the CAUSE Summer Science Camp. He has received several college acceptances and is in the process of deciding which school to attend this fall. Nasir served as a leader on this year’s CAUSE ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) competitive underwater robotics team. The team will enter the U.S. Navy-sponsored SeaPerch Challenge this April, competing against other underwater robotics teams from across the region. The teams will use their robots to perform simulated real-world science and engineering tasks under water. Nasir was asked to reflect on his experience as a member of the CAUSE ROV team and a summary follows.

Over the past five years, I have grown in ways that I would never have expected from areas of professional development to personal growth. The CAUSE program has given me opportunities that I thought I would never have such as access to the environment around me and the opportunity to give back to my community. CAUSE has allowed me to gain a new perspective on life, and I’ve started to see the connection between marine biology and conservation to our own lives and environment. 

One thing I really like about the program is its ability to provide options for various projects throughout the year like tree planting, making flyers, gardening, etc. It allows me to take advantage of the opportunities that are given to me. This year, I was lucky enough to participate in the CAUSE ROV team, building underwater robots. 

ROV truly has been an amazing experience. It has allowed me to gain skills that I may have never thought of before like how to solder wires together, build frames out of PVC, and, more importantly, how to work with different ideas to make tools for our ROV to perform underwater tasks. I’ve also had the amazing experience of actually learning about the mechanics and functions of control boxes, even getting the chance to make one for our ROV that we are entering in this year’s SeaPerch Challenge competition. Personally, I think the ROV team wasn’t just building an ROV, but also strengthening our connection with each other and bonding through this project. I’ve loved every minute of it, and I am excited to see the future of this program.

In short, the CAUSE program has brought an abundance of joyful memories and friendships that I know will last forever. It’s special in that I was able to gain a second family within a job that I love and truly enjoy. I’m excited to move on and teaching Camden youth during summer camp – I can already say, it will be one of the many highlights of my summer. It’s exciting to see our hard work finally come together and give us the ability to teach kids who feel excited and ready to learn about science and their environment.

Camden city school 8th and 9th graders who are also Camden residents may learn more about the CAUSE program and application here.

Lauren Ugorji, Lead Writer - PSE&G

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