High school students run their own non-profit organization to provide STEM opportunities to primary students

Echelon Catapult partners with the Aerospace Museum of California, which serves as the organization’s fiscal sponsor.



Samantha Rickards, St. Francis High School

St. Francis and Jesuit high students run their own non-profit organization, called Echelon Catapult, dedicated to providing STEM-based opportunities to primary school students. 

“Our mission is to give all students and under-served communities, especially those in the Sacramento area, the opportunity to learn and to develop a passion for STEM,” said Chief Operating Officer and St. Francis senior Kate Cockerton.

As students themselves, the members of Echelon Catapult say they are able to teach other students in an engaging and relatable way.

“We use a students-teaching-students model because as high schoolers ourselves, we have a unique insight into the minds of our peers,” said Cockerton.

Furthermore, the organization’s members say the opportunities encourage students to become lifelong learners. 

“Children who familiarize themselves with STEM-related concepts from an early age are significantly more likely to build a career in STEM. The ability to understand and address the most complex challenges of today and tomorrow is truly essential.” said Chief Information Officer and St. Francis junior Nayeli Kojima.

Echelon Catapult began in 2019 as the vision of Jesuit student Donovan Jasper and his fellow Cybersecurity teammates. 

“We wanted an educational STEM organization to recruit and develop in-house student experts and host weekend workshops,” said Justin Tsai, a co-moderator of Jesuit’s Cybersecurity Team. “The workshops would be taught by these student experts, on campus.”

Due to Covid-19, however, Echelon Catapult was forced to transition to online lessons via Zoom. 

Although a pivot in original design, transitioning to online teaching proved to be essential in “transforming Echelon Catapult into the educational organization it is today,” said Tsai.  

Echelon Catapult partners with the Aerospace Museum of California, which serves as the organization’s fiscal sponsor. 

“The museum agreed to sponsor this group as we were very impressed with the energy and passion these high school students demonstrated to inspire younger students to discover and explore STEM,” said Karen Jones, the Aerospace Museum’s Director of Advancement.

The majority of courses created by Echelon Catapult are for elementary to middle school students; however, on occasion, the range will expand to include interested high school prospects. 

One of the organization’s priorities is to help disadvantaged students gain access to STEM.

“One focal point that remains true to this organization is the focus on underprivileged students who don’t have many opportunities to learn about STEM,” said Chief Business Development Officer and St. Francis junior Divya Rao. “Therefore, most of our classes are free, and we do offer financial aid for classes that are not.”

The types of courses offered are ones not typically taught in an average classroom environment. Echelon Catapult’s members take pride in allowing students to learn about topics they might not otherwise have the opportunity to explore. 

“We research different STEM fields and find topics that we think students would be passionate or interested about…We all have some background in STEM, so we bring together our interests and knowledge, to create courses,” said Rao.

The process of curating course curriculum involves many hours of time put in by Echelon Catapult’s team. 

“Usually there’s one or two lead instructors who handle the syllabus, meeting dates, and course-related emails, while the rest are TAs who may teach part of the curriculum and help with the activities,” said Cockerton.

Recently, Echelon Catapult has begun to offer more in-person courses for students interested in getting hands-on STEM experience. Summer classes have previously been held at St. Francis and Jesuit High Schools and the organization plans to further expand in-person activities. 

“Our team members have been considering hosting a Science Bowl, a Science Fair, and we are working on developing a long-term 3D printing program. We are also looking to expand our tutoring program, which specifically targets academically struggling middle school students,” said Chief Executive Officer and Jesuit senior, Charles Sander. 

Participating students and their parents gave Echelon Catapult positive reviews. 

 “My son was very excited telling me all about it. I loved how enthusiastic he was when he was sharing all about the courses,” said a parent of a student in an anonymous online survey. 

“Echelon Catapult is so much fun. I’ve met so many new friends in these classes.” said a student who responded to the survey.

Oftentimes, students who participate in these courses come back to help teach future STEM aficionados. 

“I was actually a student of Echelon Catapult’s classes when they first started. I became passionate about STEM and education through their classes, which is why I am a part of the team now. I hope to inspire young students the same way I was inspired,” said Ali Zaidi, an Echelon Catapult instructor.

Along with past students, Echelon Catapult extends a year-round invitation to any high schoolers interested in volunteering their time to the organization.

“You just have to love STEM and be open to sharing that love with your community,” said Sander.

Cockerton added, “It’s certainly a lot of work, but in a way it’s a labor of love. Love for learning, love for science, and love for our students.”