March 2024 Newsletter

Category: Newsletter

Your Support in Action

Your support is helping to support educational equity for thousands of youth in southeastern San Diego. We are on our way to serve over 2,000 students from elementary through high school with multiple programs this school year. Below are a few highlights of what’s going on at EIS.

The Steps-2-STEM elementary program has served 908 students during fall and winter sessions. These 4th and 5th grade students are learning about life science, physical science, earth & space science, water & climate science, math, coding, and engineering. Steps-2-STEM is a free education program provided during the school day to all 11 schools in the Lincoln Cluster thanks to your support!
Eleven middle school girls are participating in our Botball Robotics program. Students are learning coding, engineering, team work, and leadership. They will compete in the regional tournament in April.
Eighty-five youth are participating in our afterschool and Saturday programs. They are learning about marine biology, physics, chemistry, and forensic science. Sign up for spring afterschool and Saturday sessions below!

For high school students, Girls Take Flight has kicked off with drone camp starting April 1st and Teen Steam Café students have entered the Jacobs Teen Innovation Challenge and are working on understanding the the very complex issue of homelessness.

EIS staff are busy bees right now, prepping for Spring Camp that starts on April 1st. Sign up for camp below. Summer camp registration will be open soon – so keep an eye out for information in our newsletter and on social media.

EIS programs are free and low-cost thanks to the generosity of individual donations, corporate, foundation, and county support. Thank you for being part of the EIS Family!


The Women of Girls Take Flight

 Girls Take Flight aims to educate high school girls about the drone industry, help them become FAA remote pilot certified, and become proficient with flying a commercial-type drone. Despite the continued growth of the drone industry, women represent less than 8% of drone pilots. Since the pilot program in 2018, 43 girls have earned their part 107 remote pilot certification, which accounts for almost 20% of all female drone pilots under 18 years of age in the U.S.

Girls Take Flight alumnae with Desi Ekstein (center)

Bringing a new program to life is a huge undertaking. The first year was a success thanks to then Project Manager Anjelica Thang. She worked with Kristen Koeblin, the prior Director of Education for Robolink and led the curriculum with the use of CoDrone during drone camp. During the practicum, Desi Ekstein, an experienced commercial sUAS pilot and FAA Part 107 certified, was the co-lead. Support also came from Jim Stone and Anthonette Pena, who were the prior Executive Director and Education Director.

“Working collaboratively with these two amazing women who were experts in their field allowed us to bring forth a program that was both educational and engaging for students. During the drone practicum, students expressed enjoyment at having Desi as an instructor as she brought a plethora of knowledge to the classroom, made concepts for studying for the remote pilot exam easier to understand, and encouraged them throughout the journey.” Anjelica Thang, Senior Research Analyst, Center for Sustainable Energy.

(Left to Right) Anjelica Thang, Shellie Baxter, Kitrina Carr, and Sarah Tuakli Cooper (EIS Executive Director)

The comprehensive approach where students dive into the theoretical aspects required for the FAA exam, the hands on experience, and the emphasis on professionalism stand out to Desi Ekstein. She shared that “It’s heartening to witness the tangible impact it has had on its participants. Many of the girls have embraced the skills they acquired, with some even venturing into entrepreneurship by purchasing drones and earning income through their operation. Perhaps the most inspiring are the stories of those who have taken their drone expertise beyond borders, engaging in humanitarian efforts in other countries. It’s a testament to how this program not only empowers young women, but also nurtures a sense of global citizenship and compassion.”

The leadership of Desi Ekstein, the numerous women drone professionals who support students, and the alumnae who return as instructors and role models inspire Kitrina Carr, the current Project Manager of Girls Take Flight. “Girls Take Flight builds a community for high school girls unlike any that I have seen. I am amazed at everything our students accomplish during their week of Drone Camp – which can be an intense week, especially for those who have never coded to fly a drone.” Kitrina Carr, Technology Programs Manager.

In 2021, EIS began collaborating with Our Genetic Legacy to provide program graduates with additional drone opportunities. Our Genetic Legacy offers opportunities for Girls Take Flight graduates to refine and broaden their mapping skills. “Since the inception of the DRONe Project and the initial conversation with Jim Stone, EIS has played a pivotal role as a major supporter of our program. Partnering with EIS has proven to be an incredibly enriching experience for both parties.”  Shellie Baxter, Founding CEO of Our Genetic Legacy.

Apply to participate in the Girls Take Flight spring drone camp April 1st – 5th at

Visit to learn about their programs for youth and help them raise funds to continue their drone-mapping project in London!

EIS History: Maxcine and William Stephens

Maxcine & William Stephens were valuable supporters of EIS. They became involved with EIS when their children were young and EIS was in the white house on the hill. They served as tutors, supervisors, and even helped with building maintenance. Their children, grandchildren, and a great-grandchild have all participated in EIS programs. In the video below they tell their story on how they got involved with EIS and how it has changed throughout time.

When EIS founder Tom Watts expanded the afterschool science club to the white house at 51st and Market, he soon realized that he needed help operating a larger program. Reaching out to the community he found that support through Robert and Ardelle Matthews, Elizabeth Thompson, and many other core supporters who would form the original Board of Directors. It wasn’t long that William and Maxcine Stephens became involved. The Stephens were already friends with both the Mathews and Mrs. Thompson through the neighborhood and community activities.

Maxcine was a tutor in classroom activities, served on the board, was the chairperson of the group Friends of EIS, and was a driver and chaperone on countless field trips. During this time, she earned her B.A. in education from San Diego State University and retired from a teaching career within the San Diego Unified School District. Not long after, William began volunteering at EIS with building maintenance and field trips and later served as Treasurer on the board. William was a Buyer for the University of San Diego and secured funding and supplies for many departments including the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. While at Scripps, he secured resources in a project for EIS – spearheading the construction and installation of the first saltwater aquarium tank at EIS. It was a huge undertaking from the framework, installing glass, glues, filters, hoses, etc. He even transported the saltwater from Scripps Aquarium. The aquarium would sometimes leak but they finally got it up and running. EIS was in the aquatics displaying business.

William and Maxcine’s son Bill Stephens reflected on his parent’s support of EIS “As I look back now I know and appreciate what Dr. Watts and his family has accomplished. Without them, there would be no EIS. I also realize that he instilled a mindset of community involvement and how important it was for all to work together for a common goal. My parents were a part of that as was many parents, teachers, and family members – and I am proud.” 


Apply for Spring Drone Camp with Girls Take Flight

Apply Now!


Sign up for Spring Camp and Spring Afterschool and Saturday



Join the Mathemagicians Homework Club at EIS on Saturdays (excluding holidays) from 12:00-1:00 pm at EIS. Spots are limited – please RSVP!

If you would like to participate, email Include your email, your child’s grade, and math concepts they are working on (or share an attachment of their homework). Mentors will offer help, more practice problems or worksheets. This includes SAT math help as well. They will monitor this email daily so you don’t have to wait until Saturday to ask for help.

Mathemagicians is a volunteer led program at EIS to support local youth.





Have you participated in programs or volunteered at the Elementary Institute of Science?
Whether you’re still in high school, college, working or retired, we want to know what you’ve been up to and if you have thoughts about any impact EIS had on your life or career. Please send an email to our Development Assistant, Leah Oviedo at

EIS alumni are invited to join our official group to reconnect and stay updated on future reunions.

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Use the form below to contact EIS staff, and we will respond as quickly as possible!

Elementary Institute of Science
608 51st Street
San Diego, CA 92114