Not every fifth-grader who eats a cupcake immediately exclaims, "I got oil!" But for the fifth-graders from Ramon Garza Elementary School, almost everyone struck a chocolatey core Wednesday at the Aera Energy Academy.
Cupcakes were only a segment of the plentiful hands-on explanation of the oil industry at the Academy. The cupcakes represented the earth as the kids stuck clear straws, or oil drillers, into the center of their cupcakes to see if they'd struck oil, or chocolate.
"I got oil, I'm rich now," Diego Rodriguez exclaimed.
A few kids only had vanilla cupcakes, sans chocolate cores. Bill Senecal, an Aera engineering technician, said that was OK.
"Sometimes we don't always find oil and that's OK," he told the kids.
The cupcakes also helped demonstrate a process students see every day, as drillers are peppered throughout Bakersfield.
Cindy Pollard, the public affairs director for Aera, said that many children — and even adults — don't know the breadth of oil applications.
"Practically everything we touch, on a daily basis, are petroleum products," Pollard said. "Which are all derived from oil."
Pollard said Kern County and Bakersfield is not only a huge source for oil, but also STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) jobs as whole. Bakersfield is huge agricultural community and many of those jobs are in the STEM field.
"The STEM jobs here are endless," Pollard said.
This hands-on lesson was also a seed of inspiration sowed into the minds of these fifth-graders.
Teacher Francisca Torivio said that many of her students have already changed their minds on what they want to be when they grow up: to STEM careers.
"We've had some lessons in class where they have been able to relate to and say 'Hey I've seen that,'" Torivio said.
Student Daniela Martinez said her performance in the Garza Elementary's math bowl and placement on the principal's list every year will help her achieve her goal of becoming either an engineer or archaeologist.
"I'm very good at math, see?" Daniela said, whipping around, pointing to text on the back of her Garza Elementary Math Bowl t-shirt.
"I'd like to get better at science, though," she said.
Diego Hernandez felt as determined as Martinez.
"From the first day of school I wanted to be an engineer," he said.
But others didn't have the epiphany of wanting to be a STEM professional until the Aera Academy.
"I'm happy here, I could be an engineer and live here," Mariah Ceballos said.
The Academy had multiple stations dedicated to real-world examples of oil byproducts and applications other than gasoline for cars, like toys and sneakers.
"We want to help people understand the oil and gas industry, it's complicated," Pollard said. "We want to demystify the industry."
By giving these fifth-graders a hands-on experience, they're inspiring future engineers, as well as educating them.