Tokay student masterminds first-ever NorCal Science Festival

Tokay High senior Julie Fukunaga, who is organizing a science festival as part of a project through the Bezos scholars program, poses with some of the K'NEX - alternative energy models - at the Lodi school Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016.

This Saturday, science, technology engineering, the arts and math will come together on Tokay High School’s campus in the form of festivities for the whole community to enjoy.

Tokay High School senior Julie Fukunaga has spent the past few months working hard to put on the first ever NorCal Science Festival.

It’s a free one-day celebration of science featuring lectures, makers, presentations and hands-on activities for people of all ages. Fukunaga is expecting between 500 and 1,000 people to attend the event and explore different aspects of science and help promote creativity and innovation.

“I saw that Lodi has a strong science background, so I wanted to take the talent we have and showcase it,” Fukunaga said.

The fair got its start in Fukunaga’s love of entering science fairs with environmental projects. Her favorite invention was a weed finder with infrared sensors so that an operator could target where to spray herbicide in a field of crops. She has won many county science fairs with countless projects — including an aquaponics system controlled by a mobile app and a “Roomba boat” to clean waterways — and has a history of stellar academic performance.

However, the real reason Fukunaga is able to put on this event is that last May, she was named a Bezos Scholar — a highly prestigious honor offered to only 12 students across the nation. It’s a year-long leadership program from the Bezos Family Foundation at The Aspen Institute.

The program’s goal is to help youth leaders tackle critical issues in the world and inspire their schools and communities.

These students met at a week-long Aspen Ideas Festival where they would create their own ideas for a festival to bring home.

Since Fukunaga has such an interest in science and technology, it’s only natural that her NorCal Science Festival would reflect that.

Students, parents, educators and other curious onlookers will have the opportunity to see 3-D printing in action, or practice stitching on a banana with lessons from Kaiser Permamente staff. There will also be a Sacramento and Lodi electric vehicle showcase, art activities, robotics demonstrations and chemistry magic shows.

“The best thing is that science is so broad so there’s something for every field,” Fukunaga said.

It was a huge effort to bring this event together, during which time Fukunaga had to learn how to do grant writing and raise more than $10,000 through grants and donations on donorschoose.org. She’s also learned how to do public relations to get word of the science fair out to the community.

Tokay High School science teacher Sandi Starr is serving as Fukunaga’s teacher mentor for the year.

“She’s been pretty amazing and has pulled together a great group of students,” Starr said.

Students from other area schools will be volunteering at the event to run a computer coding event and interview a panel of guests to talk about careers in the sciences, including TED talk speaker Sonaar Luthra, Starr said.

There is also a charitable aspect to the day. In one activity, visitors will have the opportunity to create a pinwheel in the Rebuild Challenge. For every completed pinwheel she sends to Students Rebuild the Bezos Family Foundation will send in $2 to the International Rescue Committee’s Healing Classrooms to support child refugees from Syria.

Once the festival is done and the year is over, Fukunaga will have her sights set on college, having been accepted to University of Southern California and the University of California, Berkeley. She is hoping to study electrical engineering and computer science with an emphasis in environmental engineering.

Until then the excitement for all involved is on the science festival.

“I’m hoping to do this next year,” Starr said. “But we will be at a loss without Julie.”

Contact reporter Christina Cornejo at christinac@lodi news.com.

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