LCHS Alumna, Now at USC, Adds to Trove of Awards

Dieuwertje “D.J.” Kast (right) receives the USC Rossier Second Century Alumni Award from Karen Symms Gallagher, dean of the university’s Rossier School of Education.
Photo courtesy Brian Morri / 211 Photograph
Dieuwertje “D.J.” Kast (right) receives the USC Rossier Second Century Alumni Award from Karen Symms Gallagher, dean of the university’s Rossier School of Education.

La Cañada High School graduate Dieuwertje “D.J.” Kast has won a lot of awards, but the latest — from the Rossier School of Education at USC — is one she and her family won’t forget.
Kast, a 2007 graduate of LCHS, was one of two people who earlier this month won the USC Rossier Second Century Alumni Award for rising stars in fields that support educational equity.
“It was a major event,” her father, W. Martin Kast, a professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at USC, said of the awards ceremony marking the education school’s centennial. “There were hundreds and hundreds of people, and there she was on stage for the award. As a parent, you’re very proud … she has won so many awards. It’s an award in a long track record of awards related to her effort in STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] outreach to minorities.”
Kast, who has three degrees from USC — a bachelor of science in biology, a master’s in marine environmental biology and a master’s in arts and teaching with single subject science credential — is working on a doctorate in education from the institution. She received the Rossier award in late August.
“It’s definitely validating that I’m doing something right,” Kast said. “The more people know the work we’re doing, the more we are seen on a local and then a national-international scale. I would love for it to lead to grow the program.”
Currently, Kast is the STEM programs manager for USC’s Joint Educational Project. She has provided STEM instruction to more than 23,000 underrepresented minority students in the Los Angeles Unified School District as well as 600 teachers, 20 school principals and numerous community members. She coordinates STEM programming for grades K-5 across a number of schools through the Wonderkids and Young Scientists programs. The Wonderkids after-school program helps students in grades 1-3 learn a sense of curiosity about science and introduces them to careers in the field, according to the USC website. Young Scientists inspires diverse students to become leaders and innovators in science and engineering, the website said.
Kast also teaches science classes to high school students through USC’s Neighborhood Academic Initiative, a college preparatory program for low-income youth.
The scholar, whose doctorate will be in education with a concentration in teacher education in multicultural societies, sees her true passion as teaching teachers. She says elementary school teachers are not teaching science systematically.
“They really heavily enforce math and reading, and science gets left on the back burner,” Kast said. “Teachers are not comfortable with science concepts or there’s not a lot of funding for teachers. Teachers have it so hard as it is. … In grades K-3 if they’re uncomfortable, the teacher skips it all together. It’s reinforced in low-income schools.”
Anthony Maddox, a professor of clinical education at USC, nominated her for the Second Century Alumni Award. He said he has known Kast for a long time.
“She’s a really capable person,” Maddox said. “She’s also a great mix of intellect and advocacy. Someone like that needs to be recognized and noted.”
Maddox said Kast, who is his doctoral student, advocated for science and he tried to find a way for her to teach his students. Her way of helping, motivating and even delivering instructions to students was imaginative, he said.
“It’s something she has a gift for,” Maddox said. “She is phenomenally creative.”
In 2015, Kast was included on Forbes’ prestigious “30 Under 30” list for science and a similar list compiled by the North American Association for Environmental Education for her community work in STEM in leveling the playing field for thousands of low-income students of color.
Besides her efforts in STEM, Kast has also recently found time to work with her father on a cancer education curriculum for underserved children in an after-school program.
“I think it’s very inspiring what D.J. and Martin are doing,” said Kast’s mother, Sylvia, who participates as a speaker in the program because she survived breast cancer. “They do it for 2nd- to 5th-grade elementary. The main reason of that is to educate the kids that cancer is not scary. It’s unbelievable how they adapt to the workshop.”

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