Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology (HESTEC) Week at The University of Texas-Pan American blasted off for its third year in helping Hispanic youth realize the possibilities of studying and working in the fields of science, technology, mathematics and engineering.
HESTEC 2004 kicked off with more than 1,000 South Texas teachers attending Math and Science Educator Day - primarily geared towards science and math educators at the kinder-12 - at the UTPA Fieldhouse Monday, Sept. 27.
Educator Day brought an array of speakers to the stage including corporate leaders, a Hollywood actress, NASA's Mars Czar and several congressional leaders from the state of Texas.
UTPA President Dr. Blandina Cárdenas welcomed the educators and sponsors of the weeklong event, Sept. 27-Oct. 2, to the opening ceremonies.
"We must prepare them for that vision of the future that is technology-based, the requirements, the preparation of Hispanic students in this country in those fields is a scandal, the numbers are so low and the population is growing to be such an important population that if we do not adopt a great sense of urgency in increasing the numbers, that future will be dim for them and dim for the society as a whole and that is why you are here," Cardenas said.
Cárdenas told the sponsors she was thankful for their support during HESTEC, and would like to see their support extend to other areas of the University.
"It is an extraordinary assembly of corporate leaders and we are grateful to them. We expect that we can become partners with them in not only HESTEC, but in our research, in supporting our students and in the development of The University of Texas-Pan American as one of the most important (universities) in the state and indeed in the nation," Cárdenas said.
This year's sponsors include Ford Motor Company, Texas Instruments, Verizon, Time Warner Cable, NASA, Boeing, Bank of America, U.S. Department of Energy, Lockheed Martin, City of Edinburg, H-E-B, Coca Cola and many more.
Roland S. Arriola, UTPA vice president for External Affairs and HESTEC co-founder, also welcomed the educators to the first day of HESTEC, and told them the world needs their help in shaping the minds of future engineers and scientists.
"One of our main goals is to reach out to more than 300,000 kids and make sure they have an opportunity to investigate careers in technology, science and all those fields that are rapidly increasing," Arriola said.
The first keynote speaker of the day was J. Brian Ferguson, chairman and CEO of Eastman Chemical Company, who talked to teachers about "Realizing the Possibility - Math, Science Literacy and Hispanic Youth." Eastman Chemical Company was recently named one of the nation's top 48 companies and government institutions considered most supportive of Hispanic-serving engineering schools.
Ferguson told teachers and school administrators the blame for the shortage of Hispanics in the science and technology fields falls on no one, but they can be the champions for change in turning around those numbers.
Ferguson said that only four percent of Hispanic youth leaving high school have skills to even attempt an engineering degree. He also said that fewer have the passion and desire, clearly making it too late for many Hispanic youth to realize their possibilities.
"As educators, leaders and as role models in your schools, you are in a unique position to begin changing the failures of the past into the successes of the future," Ferguson said. "You can't do it by yourself and you shouldn't be expected to do it all by yourself, but you can provide the impetus, and the spark for reform. You can be the catalyst to help them realize the possibilities."
In addition, Ferguson mentioned that 40 of the top 50 fastest growing occupations in the U.S. now require some sort of education after high school, and the number of jobs requiring at least a bachelor's degree is expected to grow by nearly 22 percent at the end of this decade, while jobs requiring at least an associate's degree is expected to rise by 32 percent.
"Yet we are not producing those potential workers at the appropriate rate," Ferguson said. "Our own U.S. Department of Labor estimates that by the end of this decade we will face a critical shortage of 12 million qualifying workers in this country."
Also, speaking during the morning session was Maria Conchita Alonso, actress and singer, who encouraged teachers to continue to teach and believe in not only themselves, but also in their students.
"One of our key roles is to inspire the next generation of explorers," Figueroa said. "One thing we've committed ourselves to is to leave this world better than we found it."
Figueroa, also known as the "Mars Czar," spoke about three points, which he hoped would cultivate a spirit of exploration among youth. One was to implement a program to explore the solar system and beyond with robots and humans.
The final two were to expand the desire to explore beyond the earth's orbit and to promote U.S. interests throughout the world. He also told the crowd about NASA's accomplishments this year with the Mars Rovers and future plans to have humans on the moon again in 2020.
"The Rovers have been successful beyond our wildest imagination," Figueroa said. "I hope this information has been a source of motivation and inspiration to the next generation of explorers."
Educators also participated in breakout sessions during the event, which gave them the opportunity to learn how to build rockets, construct hot air balloons, make homemade chemistry sets, map a volcano on Mars as well as many more hands-on activities they could take back and teach their students.
Tomas Gonzalez, an 11th grade chemistry teacher at PSJA North High School, said the breakout session, "Rocketry - In and Outside the Classroom," taught by NASA Johnson Space Center representative Angelo Casaburri, was an excellent activity that he will share with his students.
Gonzalez said he plans to build every rocket that was presented during the session with his class including a straw rocket, bottle rocket, industrial strength paper rocket and rocket car.
"It helps to know someone that has the experience (in rocketry) and has gone through it and we can see how we can apply it in the classroom. I have used modifications of this, but I've never built a rocket out of paper. I also learned it is very inexpensive to build because I have all the things needed to create it," Gonzalez said.
Elisama Gutierrez, an eighth grade science teacher at San Juan Middle School and 2002 UTPA graduate, said she will also take back what she has learned at Educator Day and share it with her students.
Gutierrez built a paper rocket during the session. Some of the rockets were launched outside the UTPA Engineering Building after the sessions.
"For me it was an eye opening experience, I know as soon as I get back to my classroom I'm going to make modifications to make it an interesting experience for my students," Gutierrez said.
The University of Texas-Pan American Science Symposium, also part of HESTEC's first day of events also featured research posters from UTPA students from each department of the College of Science and Engineering.
UT Pan American students stood near their posters and were on-hand to talk to students, faculty, staff and HESTEC guests about their research projects.
Eighteen students, chosen as the outstanding students from each department in the college received a UTPA Student Research Excellence Award provided by the Office of Research Administration to be used for conference travel or to defray textbook expenses.
Cárdenas congratulated poster session winners and explained why she thought the potential to be a scientist existed in every person.
"Every three year old child, no matter what culture they are born into, no matter what continent they may be born into, no matter the economic condition of their family, every 3-year-old child is a scientist," Cárdenas said. "They engage in exploration. They engage in inquiries. They classify what they observe, synthesize their understanding of what is around them and they create a reality. That potential for scientific work is in every human being."
Dr. Raymond L. Orbach, director of the Office of Science in the U.S. Department of Energy, said 13.5 percent of the 2005 national discretionary budget is devoted to research and development, which is the highest in 37 years.
The current administration understands the importance of scientific research and the support exists to help and encourage students in the audience, he said.
"Each of you are individuals and each of you can create. No one can take that away from you," Orbach said. "If you create in science, you leave something for posterity that is yours and that will have your name on it and show your excitement for discovery and creativity."
The efforts of corporate leaders and government representatives to increase the numbers of students, especially Hispanics, in the fields of science, engineering and technology were recognized in a press conference held at the International Trade and Technology Building by Congressman Rubén Hinojosa (TX-15) as part of HESTEC 2004.
The conference was held immediately prior to the Congressional Roundtable on Science Literacy. Speaking at the press conference were Congressmen Solomon Ortiz (TX-27), Lloyd Doggett (TX-10) and Chris Bell (TX-25); Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee (TX-18); UT System Chancellor Mark Yudof; and UTPA President Cárdenas.
"Since its inception, HESTEC has captured the imagination of South Texas and galvanized the community around the goal of preparing the next generation of mathematicians, scientists, engineers and technology experts. This event has engaged our community on all levels. Last year HESTEC reached over 1,500 teachers, 25,000 community members and 330,000 students from across Texas - and I know this year's event will be just as successful. The initiative also has generated $1 million in scholarship dollars for college students," Hinojosa said.
Educators listened as each congressional representative talked about the need and ways to increase the numbers of Hispanics in the critical fields of math, science, engineering and technology.
"We need to give hope and to do what we need to do to think out of the box and events like HESTEC think out of the box," Jackson-Lee said.
HESTEC continues Tuesday, Sept. 28 with Ford Hispanic Leadership Day at the UTPA Fieldhouse with more than 1,000 high school students expected to converge onto the campus.