Aidan Lewis saw an opportunity to inspire and intrigue the next generation.
Good friend Evan Kowal wanted kids who would not typically have exposure to the outdoors and sciences a chance to discover a new passion.
Tianhao Wei ventured into the effort after meeting Sarah Bexell, an avid environmentalist who has devoted her life to saving pandas.
Lewis, Kowal and Wei, friends since childhood now heading into their senior year at South Pasadena High and in wanting to make a difference, have intertwined their love of science and the outdoors to launch an organization, which allows low-income children to make new discoveries in the wild.
YOSE or Youth Outdoor Science Education was founded by the trio to teach youth – from all walks of life – the beauty of nature.
“Ever since we were little we loved hiking outdoors, and seeing the natural world up close inspired us and sparked our interest in science, in and out of the classroom,” explained Kowal, describing how YOSE came together. “We knew that many kids are not able to get outdoors and learn science in this setting.”
They founded the organization after receiving a grant from the Dragon Kim Foundation, which helps young people explore and pursue their passions in arts, athletics, or academics.
“We first partnered with Boys and Girls Club of Pasadena, bringing in animals like snakes, lizards, and even a zebra for their elementary school-aged kids to learn about, as they could not leave the classroom,” Kowal said.
Introducing interactive science activities, the three teens are currently working with Families Forward Learning Center, a low-income preschool in Pasadena, and recently took kids from the age of 6 to 8 years old on a hike to Millard Canyon Creek in Altadena and El Matador Beach in Malibu. “We taught them basic ecology and biology with the natural backdrop of amazing California native animals and plants as our helper,” Kowal continued.
They plan to take a second group of about 20 nine to 11-year-olds on the same adventures next week as animals will be brought in from Families Forward Kids, much like the Boys and Girls Club has done in the past.
Utilizing engaging science activities and an interactive science curriculum taught in some of the most beautiful outdoor settings in Southern California, Lewis, Kowal and Wei hope to spark an interest in the next generation of young scientists.
All three attended Marengo Elementary School, grew up hiking in the Arroyo and “messing around with science,” added Kowal, who would someday like to become a doctor and travel to impoverished countries providing medical care. He plans to continue with YOSE into his adult life, either as a side occupation, or potentially making it part of his life’s work.
The longtime friends were drawn to their love for the natural world at an early age as they all attended Outdoor Science School as fifth graders. “It further sparked our passion for the sciences and outdoors,” Kowal said, noting their passion grew further when they became volunteers as 10th graders for Families Forward Learning Center, an organization that prepares families living in isolation and poverty to succeed in school and in life through learning programs.
Their mission was to help underprivileged kids.
“We knew how instrumental Outdoor Science School and our exposure to the sciences and the outdoors was to us, and we wanted kids who would not normally get exposure to the outdoors and sciences because of poverty to discover their passions as we did,” Kowal said.
Tianhao Wei, inspired by Bexell and her love of animals, insists: “Humanity has always disrespected nature and currently is trashing the Earth at a horrifying rate. YOSE presents the perfect opportunity to educate the next generation about science but also get them excited about the environment and its organisms. I hope to foster in our audience a love for nature such that when they grow up they made Earth an environmentally friendlier place. Imagine being stuck inside a house all day. At some point, it gets extremely claustrophobic. Going out into nature relieves this pressure altogether.
Nature has shaped the face of the Earth for billions of years, develop the best scenery that anyone can enjoy. Meanwhile, it has pinpointed optimum physical features of biota that range from simple to wacky but fascinate anyone who studies and observes the. I have loved science since I was young. Most of my life has revolved around STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), which was probably influenced by the people around me. Learning about how things work and applying that to the real world is not only satisfying but rewarding.
Wei, recognized for his lofty achievement in leaping to great lengths as one of the top high school triple jumpers in the state, says: “Honestly, I am undecided,” when asked where life will take him beyond college. That’s why he co-founded a project like YOSE – “To explore what I enjoy doing. However, I am sure I will go into the STEM field.”
Lewis hopes that the YOSE project will someday allow children to observe environments they would not be able to see on their own. “This would change their perspective on how the world works,” he said. “I would also like to expand our program to become more involved in helping our environment and cleaning our oceans.”
Like Wei, he’s uncertain what he’ll pursue after college, “but I know I will work in STEM,” he said. “I also plan to continue doing projects with the goal of saving our environment and helping people.”
He finds science extremely fascinating “to see how things work,” he continued. “There are an infinite number of natural processes that we can learn about when observing our natural world. I also love nature because it shows how life has existed without human interference and that each life form is unique. It is also very peaceful and serene.”
Growing up, Lewis was eager to learn about how nature and science work in tandem, helping to shape the person he has become today. “I hope this project can excite and inspire the kids in the same way hiking and camping did for me.”
He’s also hopeful the YOSE project will someday allow children to observe environments they would not be able to find on their own. “This would change their perspective on how the world works,” stressed Lewis. “I would also like to expand our program to become more involved in helping our environment and cleaning our oceans.”
Ultimately, Kowal hopes YOSE will be able to help kids across the country and beyond realize their passion for the outdoors and sciences.
“I would love for YOSE to expand nationally,” he said. “When I go off to college I would love to start a YOSE branch in the city I attend. In the near future, we definitely want to reach more kids.”
And expose them to, noted Kowal, a quality, basic understanding of biology, ecology, conservation, and the natural world around them.
For more information about YOSE, visit: yose.dragonkimfoundation.org/contact/