More than 1,000 South Texas teachers, administrators and superintendents came to The University of Texas-Pan American to not only kick off the fifth anniversary of Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology Week, but also to learn what they can do to inspire the next batch of scientists, researchers, and engineers of tomorrow.
UTPA President Blandina Cárdenas welcomed participants to the first day - Sept. 25 - of the weeklong event developed by the University in conjunction with Congressman Rubén Hinojosa (TX-15) to generate interest by students in the fields of science, math, engineering and technology.
Educator Day highlights the important role teachers play in ensuring success of students in these fields Cárdenas said.
"You are the key to the success of our students who must prepare themselves for work and productivity in the 21st century," she said. "This is the profession that makes all others possible."
Cárdenas talked about how much technology had changed in her lifetime and how important it was for the nation's future that students today - particularly the growing population of Hispanics, now the largest minority population in the United States - be strong in math, science and the methods of science.
*CONGRESSIONAL ROUNDTABLE ON SCIENCE LITERACY*
Before heading off to a daylong series of professional development workshops and interactive sessions headed up by world-class speakers, teachers heard from participants in a Congressional Roundtable on Science Literacy made up of corporate leaders, high-ranking government officials, scientists and higher education administrators.
Moderated by award-winning TV journalist Jose Díaz-Balart, news anchor for Telemundo Network's "Cada día" morning program, the roundtable included the following participants: John Hofmeister, president, Shell Oil Company; Jean Spence, executive vice president of Global Technology and Quality, Kraft Foods Inc., Steven Hinchman, senior vice president, Worldwide Production, Marathon Oil Corporation; Alicia Fernandez-Campfield, vice president of Lean Six Sigma for Developing Markets Operations, Xerox Corporation; Adalio Sanchez, general manager, Technology Collaboration Solutions, IBM Systems & Technology Group; Melendy Lovett, president, Educational & Productivity Solutions, and senior vice president, Texas Instruments Inc.; Trinidad Aguirre, senior vice president and general manager, Verizon Telecom in Texas; Linda Gooden, president, Lockheed Martin Information Technology, Lockheed Corporation; John Hairston Jr., acting assistant administrator for the Office of Education, NASA; Tony Reinhart, regional manager of Governmental Affairs, Ford Motor Company; John Katzman, president and CEO, The Princeton Review; and William Powers Jr., president, The University of Texas at Austin; Congressman Henry Cuellar (TX-28); Congressman Hinojosa; and Cárdenas.
The panelists talked about the critical need for more students to enter the fields of math, science, engineering and technology; current programs in place at their respective organizations to encourage and increase science literacy in students; and obstacles as well as solutions to addressing this national problem.
Spence from Kraft Foods said the crisis is very real and IBM representative Sanchez called the shortage of students pursuing the STEM (science, engineering, technology and math) fields not only a national crisis but also a "strategic threat."
"South Korea, which has one sixth of the U.S. population, graduated the same number of engineers last year as we graduated in our entire country," he said. Among Hispanics, greater dropout rates from high school and college make their underrepresentation in these fields even greater and the problem more critical as Hispanics are now the largest and fastest growing minority population in the United States.
Spence said all companies want a workforce representative of the customers they serve and described the number of scientists Kraft needs for one item they produce. "It takes 20 different specialty scientists to make a box of Lunchables," she said.
Later on, Lockheed Martin executive Gooden said her company hires 2,500 scientists and engineers a year. Cárdenas noted not only corporate scientists and engineers are needed but support is also necessary to invest in the development of doctoral programs for increased faculty in the STEM fields.
While roundtable participants acknowledged there was no one "silver bullet" to resolve this problem, the need for collaborative efforts between government, corporations and educational institutions was a recurrent theme.
Hinojosa, a well-known national advocate for education, described his successful effort to gain additional financial support for Hispanic Serving Institutions and the need to reach children at an even younger age to create an interest in STEM fields.
"It is never too early to expose a child to math and science...but also never too late," he said.
Hinojosa said he recently introduced House Bill 5106 that would provide $50 million in grants toward the upgrading of high school laboratories to provide more effective hands-on learning opportunities for students. Citing the drastic change in today's classroom, Cuellar also emphasized the importance of providing the proper tools, such as computers and accessibility to the Internet, for students and teachers.
"Children should learn with technology not about technology," he said. "Innovation and creativity start in the classroom. We have to give our teachers the tools so they can succeed," he said.
Lovett said Texas Instruments has created classroom exercises based on the mathematics from each episode of CBS TV's "NUMB3RS" show. Reinhart cited Ford's PAS (Partners for Advanced Studies) Program, an academically rigorous, interdisciplinary curriculum based on inquiry and projects that provides students with content knowledge and skills necessary for success in fields such as business, economics, engineering and technology. Marathon Oil, Hinchman said, has an Inroads Program, which provides internship opportunities for students. IBM works with organizations such as HENAAC (formerly Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Conference) to increase recognition and visibility of technology professionals.
"We need to make our Hispanic technology population as appealing role models as NBA basketball players," IBM's Sanchez said.
In its wrap-up, roundtable speakers identified the problem facing the nation not just a corporate problem, or a government problem or an education problem.
"It is our problem," Powers, UT Austin's leader said. Cuellar concurred saying it is a shared responsibility.
"Today is the catalyst to what we need to do as a nation to produce the kind of engineers we need in the future," he said.
Before heading to breakout sessions designed for the educators, Michael Grebb, an eighth grade history teacher at the Port Isabel School District who was attending his first HESTEC, said he was impressed with the caliber and commitment of the persons who spoke at the Roundtable.
"I think they are on the right track in getting more people interested in technology and math. I don't think a lot of Americans realize how fast the economies of China and India are growing and the amount of people who can take our jobs because they are better qualified," he said.
Marie Smith, who teaches sixth through eighth grade science students at St. Joseph's School in Edinburg, said it was educational to hear what the companies had to say about the students' needs.
"What I kept hearing was that they need hands-on to keep that interest there. As a teacher, I know we do a lot of that but it requires a lot more than that. That's the hook but there is a lot of work. It's not that easy. You need to know the principles of science. I think we need to be challenging - students will do a lot if teachers expect a lot from them," she said. "Teachers also need equipment and materials but also parental support. It takes a village to help the child."
John Hofmeister, president of Shell Oil Company, based in Houston, who served as the luncheon keynote speaker opened his address with a question he posed to the Valley educators - "Do you know how important you are?"
"Other than parents, who is more important than teachers? Who is more important than the educators who have our children and now my grandchildren in the classroom learning to relate to one another, learning skills, learning subject matter, learning history, and yes very importantly learning math and science," Hofmeister said.
"You are the important people that you know you are, and you are the important part of our society which takes us forward," he said.
Hofmeister said math and science has taken the global community to the 21st century successfully and to succeed in the 22nd century the use of math and science will have to advance further to sustain economic development and social justice, which he said has already brought society far. "It will sustain our academic institutions, it will advance our social well-being and it will advance all of us as human beings," he said.
During his speech, Hofmeister also addressed the recent energy crisis, which he admitted was an "awful year of high-energy costs and energy scarcity."
"Much of the reason for our high-energy costs and energy scarcity is that Americans do not know or understand the energy industries and shame on our company and shame on our industry for not explaining it better. We will take that responsibility, but the nature of energy in our country is that our lifestyles depend on it - our lifestyle of mobility," he said.
Prior to his address, Hofmeister announced the company was launching a new educational Web site, "Energizing Your Future with Shell" at www.shell.com/us/energizeyourfuture to encourage middle and high school students' interest in math and science, while introducing them to the world of energy.
The Web site was created as part of a Workforce Development Initiative to increase the number of individuals in engineering, the geosciences and process technology, Shell created this online tool for teachers and students.
"Encouraging students in middle and high school to study math and science is critical to the future of the energy industry," Hofmeister said. "Developing these skills early will help prepare students for a future career in a technology-driven industry. For Shell, this Web site is an investment in our future."
Educator Day not only provided the educators with the chance to hear from Fortune 500 executives and congressional leaders, it also offered them an opportunity to participate in hands-on activities and lectures during breakout sessions with leading education specialists, scientists, researchers, and many others in the fields of math, science, technology and engineering.
Faced first with a small bag of dirt and rocks, tweezers and a grid, the teachers were asked to "sort" them in an effort to find out what they could about a planet. Sorting varied in values from size, color, living or dead, organic or inorganic, and texture for example. For one very young class in the past, Klug told the teachers, the sorting was even done by pretty or ugly. In another activity among several, the teachers were shown 18 km by 15 km photos of Mars that students in their classroom can take through the Mars Student Imaging Project in which students choose the photo and the satellite to take it, which Klug said was very empowering to students.
"We take the topics and subjects they are teaching now and give the teachers the ability to take their students into the future. We take STEM concepts and themes and use non-earth analogs," she said. "For example, how do you design a rover or habitat - it gives them something challenging. It engages them to want to learn more and think beyond just our planet through the exploration process."
She said all their lessons are online and now even include quick time videos to go along with them. They also offer distance learning from the lowest technology abilities to the highest.
Klug said the best thing for teachers as well as parents to do for their children is to encourage questions and curiosity.
Observing the class, Dr. Milagros Mateau, university program manager in the NASA Office of Education, said NASA continues its support of HESTEC each year because of the opportunity it provides to engage students to pursue the STEM fields.
Monica Leyendecker, a second-year teacher of sixth and seventh grade science at Incarnate Word Academy in Brownsville, said she enjoyed the hands-on aspect of the workshop.
"This wasn't a lecture. I loved the fact that we can practice in the classroom and the students can get excited about it," she said.
One session, "Integrating Robotics into the Classroom," allowed educators to spend time learning to program robots to be used as instructional tools that could help students with critical thinking skills and scientific problem solving. The HESTEC session led by Betty Justus, education specialist at LEGO Education, covered the subjects of engineering, mathematics and physical science with the use of robots.
"The robots give the teacher an advantage because students are attracted to the technology and the robots challenge the students on various curricular content," Justus, said.
The new NXT brick contains sensor capabilities and wireless Bluetooth that help with programming. Students are given a task for the robots to complete and develop a picture-based program to make the robot work.
Jesse Smith, who teaches algebra I, pre-calculus, calculus and U.S. history at Raymondville High School, has used the Mindstorm system by LEGO for the past three years.
"I came to the session to learn how to use the new NXT system, since I just bought one. I have used the old system to teach the students how to make mathematical predictions and the students generally react well to it," Smith said.
The robot, which takes one to two hours to build, helps the students grasp the technology much easier. Due to the various curricular contents, the robots are age appropriate for students in the fourth grade up to college level.
Another breakout session, "21st Century Wonders," featured David Aguilar, director of Science Information and Public Programming for the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who spoke to a group of Valley educators about the demise of the Planet Pluto to what is in store for the next 25 years on Earth.
"I came here to make you think and that is basically it," Aguilar, who works for the largest astronomical research organization in the world, said.
Aguilar told the teachers that in the next 25 years several things will happen: 500 new jobs that don't exist now will be created; artificial intelligence will be everywhere; new bioengineered pets and food crops; migration because of global warming; more people will live to be more than 100 years old; China will emerge as the new global powerhouse; people will have 3-5 career changes in their lifetime; an acceleration in globalization; increased terrorism; and education will lead to more employment.
"The truth of it is, you can't educate people for what is coming; you can only teach them to prepare for it, to survive in it, and to prosper in it. That is what teachers need to do because this is what is coming and it is a global competitive market," Aguilar said.
*SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING SYMPOSIUM*
Throughout the day, a Science and Engineering Symposium titled "From the Laboratory to the Marketplace" was hosted by the UTPA College of Science and Engineering for University and high school students.
The symposium was an opportunity for UTPA undergraduate and graduate students to showcase their science and engineering scientific research as well as the college's educational environment.
Students who attended the morning symposium session heard from Dr. Mary Good, Donaghey dean and university professor, Donaghey College of Information Science and Systems Engineering from the University of Arkansas-Little Rock. Good discussed "The Role of Science and Engineering in the Competitive Arena of the Global Economy."
"One of the things you need to do today, and I hope I can convince you, is that we need a lot more of you to choose to go into science and engineering in the next few years because it really is important for both you and the country to have that happen," Good said.
Good told the students the ingredients for an innovative future include talent, investment, and infrastructure as well as a commitment to lifelong learning.
Also serving as guest speakers at the symposium were Michael van Hoye, executive director, Thermion Energy in Dallas; Dr. Christian R. Abee, director of the Michale E. Keeling Center for Comparative Medicine and Research and chair of the Department of Veterinary Sciences at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center; Trinidad Aguirre, senior vice president and general manager, Verizon Telecom in Texas; and Dr. Michael J. Ahearn, dean of the School of Health Sciences at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.
In addition, a Science Symposium Poster Competition took place in the Engineering Lobby where UTPA faculty and students displayed 75 scientific research posters.