Twelve hundred of one of our nation's most important resources - teachers - gathered Monday at The University of Texas-Pan American for the first day of Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology (HESTEC) Week 2005 hosted for the fourth year in a row by the University in conjunction with Congressman Ruben Hinojosa (TX-15).
Educator Day, supported by corporate sponsors such as Texas Instruments, Shell Oil Company, NASA, The Princeton Review, and State Farm Companies Foundation among others, is a day dedicated to discovering ways to help educators motivate young students, particularly Hispanics, to pursue interests and careers in the fields of science, math, engineering and technology.
"This year's HESTEC is bigger and better," Roland S. Arriola, vice president for External Affairs at UTPA and the HESTEC national chair, told the crowd. He said in the past four years HESTEC has been able to provide $1.2 million toward scholarships and has been able to match federal funds for an additional million that goes to GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) students when they graduate.
Welcoming the guests, UTPA President Dr. Blandina Cárdenas described HESTEC not as an event but as a movement.
Cárdenas said UTPA was working with the federal government through programs such as GEAR UP and asked for the help of teachers. "As you work with GEAR UP, I plead with you to help us create in our schools a college-bound, a college-prepared and a college-focused culture." She also cited the importance of corporate support and initiatives UTPA was taking to increase opportunities to work with federal agencies and corporations to advance science and research opportunities in Minority Serving Institutions.
Moderating a Congressional Roundtable on Science Literacy convened by Hinojosa for Educator Day was ABC News Primetime Live co-anchor John M. Quiñones. Participating in the roundtable that addressed serious issues in the state of education not only locally but nationally were a distinguished list of government, corporate and organizational leaders. Participants joining Cárdenas and Hinojosa included co-conveners Congressmen Solomón Ortiz (TX-27) and Lloyd Doggett (TX-25); Sandra Ulsh, president, Ford Motor Company Fund; Gilbert M. Grosvenor, chairman of the board, National Geographic Society; Marillyn A. Hewson, president and general manager, Kelly Aviation Center, L.P., Lockheed Martin; Jeffrey J. Owens, president, Delphi Electronics and Safety; Raúl Yzaguirre, former CEO, National Council of La Raza; John Katzman, president and CEO, The Princeton Review; and Del Velasquez, vice president - federal government affairs, Verizon.
Hinojosa said HESTEC is about mobilizing the community and unlocking potential - the potential to produce the greatest generation of engineers and scientists that this nation has ever seen.
"HESTEC 2005 is about lifting our sites and raising our aspirations. Math, science and engineering are for everyone. As a community we are ready and willing to take this next step. The question is as a nation will we make the necessary investment in human capital to realize our community's tremendous potential. That is what today's roundtable discussion is about," he said.
Many of the roundtable participants expressed concern over the nation's ability to compete globally in the future noting the low numbers of U.S. students pursuing math, science and engineering degrees compared to Asia and Europe.
Owens, whose company, Delphi, has 17,000 engineers working around the world, said there is a serious disparity in the supply of workers related to the demand.
"In 1960 one in every six bachelor or graduate degrees in the U.S. was awarded in engineering, math or the physical sciences. By the year 2000 it was down to one in 10 and by 2020, if the trend continues, more than 90 percent of the scientists and engineers in the world will live in Asia," he said, noting as well the disparity is particularly acute among Hispanics, who are projected to become 25 percent of the population in 2050. "Hispanic students only earned seven percent of the science and engineering degrees in the year 2000," he said.
Hewson said the aerospace industry is facing tremendous shortages in engineers and scientists.
"Sixty-three percent of our workforce is over 40 so they will be retiring. We expect half of our workforce of 130,000 will be eligible for retirement in the next 10 years," she said.
To combat this alarming trend, Hinojosa said the nation needs to invest in education across the board - from preschool through graduate school. He said the Hispanic Education Action Plan (HEAP) developed by the Hispanic Congressional Caucus includes programs for migrant and bilingual education, Hispanic Serving Institutions, GEAR UP and others as well as expanded students' access to Head Start and introduced legislation to help reduce high school drop out rates.
"Programs like GEAR UP are built on partnerships between schools, colleges, universities, community-based organizations and the private sector," he said, challenging corporations to do even more in support of education initiatives. "We need businesses to invest in education and partner with schools at a much higher level and in innovative ways. Businesses need a trained work force and a strong economy; both of those things depend on the amount they invest toward education."
"The age of geographic discovery is just beginning," he said. "K through 12 teachers are the greatest natural resource in this country. We must support them and motivate them to embrace new technology and to stay in the field of education."
In order to get students excited about math and science, Cárdenas said teachers have to believe that students can succeed in science at the highest level and look at the current world in which they live.
"Teachers need to connect students to the science that is around them," she said. Cárdenas added that teachers also need to give students science success experiences as well as the great edge of starting their science and math education at the earliest levels.
"We've got to do more to support our teachers to remain competitive," said Doggett. He said teachers need to be provided with more resources to increase technology in the classroom and to support needed infrastructure improvements. In addition, Doggett said testing requirements need to be balanced in The No Child Left Behind Act with the need to provide a complete, semester-long education for our children.
Several corporate leaders discussed ways their companies attempted to get students engaged in science, math and technology. Ulsh said Ford Motor Company has started directing more programs to the elementary and middle school level. During Educator Day, the Ford Motor Fund announced a $100,000 award to UTPA to implement the Ford Partnership for Advanced Studies (PAS), a rigorous, standards-based high school and middle school program, in South Texas school districts. Piloted last year at La Joya ISD, the program introduces students to concepts and skills necessary for future success built around academic knowledge, interpersonal human performance skills such as critical thinking and teamwork, and business concepts.
Katzman said his company, The Princeton Review, has recently initiated a program to make their tests more affordable to South Texas students while Hewson said Lockheed Martin participates in events like HESTEC, provides scholarships and works with teachers through special days such as Space Day in classrooms.
"Our political rhetoric, both state and federal, is that education is a top priority but our budget says it is not," Hinojosa said, noting that less than two percent of our federal budget is dedicated to education.
Cárdenas said people need to understand the scale of investment that is needed by the corporate sector, the private sector and the public sector. "We just have to come to terms with the scale of the investment that is necessary for us to be competitive," she said, citing examples of China's current significant commitment to education.
Panel participants ended their session with words of advice to both students and parents to achieve their educational goals. Velasquez said students should get involved in professional organizations, pursue internships and attend conferences such as HESTEC. He also advocated more reading and less watching TV. Cárdenas said a parent can teach basic science concepts while in the kitchen cooking for example and suggested calling children's attention to the examples of science that surround them each day. Hewson said parents should set an example for their children by staying engaged and interested in learning.
Grovensor's advice drew the greatest response from the audience of educators.
"I would encourage parents to support teachers," he said.
Attendee Becky Thomas, who teaches business classes at McAllen Memorial High School, said she felt the roundtable showed that there is a lot of agreement in what they thought needed to be done in the future.
"With everyone agreeing what needs to take place, hopefully those things will happen in the future and our kids will have a better chance in the years to come and we won't be so far behind the other countries. I think help for education needs to come from everybody - everyone has to do their share, not just one branch," she said.
Quiñones, a San Antonio native who told the audience he had benefited from a federal program similar to GEAR UP called Upward Bound when he was in school, said he felt the corporate response to questions of their support of education made it appear that they were making an honest effort.
"The fact that they are here in the hot spot and taking the tough questions from the congressmen and a journalist from ABC tells us that they have the best intentions. If they are doing all they can do, that remains to be seen," he said. He said time will show if the work force starts reflecting that their corporation has a more Hispanic face.
When asked if his HESTEC moderator experience generated some story ideas for his network news program, he said it had.
"I would love to do something for ABC News on the changing face of the American work force. I am also amazed by the lack of candidates for the jobs in science and engineering. A woman here from Lockheed Martin said there is a whole pipeline of jobs waiting to be filled and there are not enough candidates - that is a story that I could be doing," he said.
Quiñones also said he would like to bring more network attention to HESTEC.
Educators also participated in breakout sessions during the event, which gave them the opportunity to learn how to build rockets, create Web sites, solve a mystery using animal tracks and construct robots as well as many other hands-on activities they could take back and use in the classroom.
Sheri Klug, director of the Arizona State University Mars Education Program, offered an interactive conference for teachers titled "Exploring Mars: Get your students involved" which focused on bringing the excitement of exploring Mars into the classroom.
In an effort to give teachers more flexibility and creativity with their curriculum, Klug showed participants how to analyze the latest images of Mars and understand how students can conduct authentic research and take their own images of Mars.
"You need to find things that students have a high level of interest in and that students have ownership in," she said. "When they have those kinds of things, then learning goes way up."
Jennifer Becerra, an aeronautical education specialist with Oklahoma State University under a contract with NASA, had 40 Valley teachers shouting "5,4,3,2,1...blast off" as their rockets made from balloons, tape and a straw tried to reach from "earth" on one side of the room to "the international space station" on the other side via a fishing wire in her session called "321 Liftoff of The Littlest Astronauts. Geared to elementary and middle school students, Becerra said the hands-on activities and resource materials were designed to bring space education into the classroom and to teach some of the basic laws of motion to young students.
Priscilla Handy, a fifth grade reading teacher at Eisenhower Elementary School in Edinburg, said she enjoyed learning ways to incorporate reading into the sciences to help students improve their performance. A first time attendee at Educator Day, she said she'd return to participate in the workshops next year.
After attending the breakout session titled "Mission Geography," Maria Luisa Guerra, principal at Edinburg High School said she learned that NASA is more than just spaceships. "I learned that there are a lot of jobs in the field of geography for our students," she said.
Other sessions during the day included Texas Instruments professional development sessions, where 300 Rio Grande Valley math and science teachers received training from certified national instructors about new and innovative ways to effectively teach using technology. Educators who participated in these workshops walked away with a TI graphing calculator, as well as a discount coupon to further their professional development with online follow-up training.