The strong need to fill the pipeline for the next generation of leaders, particularly in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) rang out loud and clear as the sixth annual Hispanic Engineering Science and Technology (HESCTEC) Week at The University of Texas-Pan American kicked off Sept. 24 with Educator Day at the UTPA Fieldhouse.
Led by Congressman Rubén Hinojosa (TX-15) and roundtable moderator John Quiñones, Emmy award-winning co-anchor of ABC's "Primetime," the panel members focused their comments on the critical need for more students, particularly Hispanics, to enter STEM careers and current programs and opportunities in place at their respective organizations to stimulate and encourage interest in these fields.
Hinojosa described new legislation recently passed in Congress to increase accessibility to higher education and to maintain and improve the nation's innovation and competitiveness into the 21st century.
The America COMPETES (Creating Opportunities To Meaningfully Promote Excellence In Technology, Education, and Science) Act will focus on increasing investment in research, strengthening educational opportunities in STEM fields of study from elementary through graduate school and developing an innovation infrastructure. The College Cost Reduction Act will boost college financial aid by nearly $20 billion over the next five years, the single largest investment in college financial aid since the GI Bill.
"Together the America COMPETES Act and the College Cost Reduction Act will propel the next generation of graduates in the STEM fields and I'm very proud of that," he said.
Other panelists included U.S. Congressmen Henry Cuellar (TX-28) and Charles Gonzalez (TX-20); John Hofmeister, president, Shell Oil Company; Lueny Morell, director, University Relations, Latin American, Hewlett Packard Company; Ernesto Fajardo, vice president of U.S. Crop Production Business, Monsanto Company; Gary R. Heminger, executive vice president, Marathon Oil; Brent Christopher, president/CEO, Communities Foundation of Texas; Magda Yrizarry, vice president of Workplace Culture, Diversity and Compliance, Verizon; Patricia Lorea, program officer, Education, Gates Foundation; Melendy Lovett, senior vice president and president, Education Technology, Texas Instruments; Scott E. Davis, vice president, MidContinent/Alaska Business Unit, Chevron; Ben Romero, director, Intelligence, Lockheed Martin Washington Operations; James Vella, president, Ford Motor Company Fund; Jose Hernandez, astronaut, NASA; and Diane Auer Jones, assistant secretary for Postsecondary Education, U.S. Department of Education.
"What we have learned more recently is it is not only the high schools that are important to us but that the middle schools need and deserve our attention. The 12 year old today will in 10 years will be replacing one of our retiring engineers or technologists," he said.
During Educator Day, Shell Oil contributed a check to UTPA for $175,000 toward further developing STEM education in three South Texas middle schools.
In his second year at HESTEC, Hofmeister said he returned because he admires Hinojosa's leadership and is impressed by the passion and commitment of the University's administration and leadership.
"The dedication and zeal of the engineering faculty to engage the students and to bring new thinking and different perspective careers is very, very impressive. Then you look at the whole talent base of the community and the reach across the Hispanic population. UTPA is a great school where the Hispanic population of Texas has a wonderful opportunity in a family environment to learn new skills and to develop new professions. I am really excited about it," he said.
Intervention programs at the earliest ages were among the many ways the panelists said they were addressing the challenge, often in collaboration with public and private entities, to increase the access to and the numbers of students in STEM fields. Other programs and assistance cited included mentorship from role models, internship and cooperative education programs, financial support in the form of scholarships and grants, support for Advanced Placement course access and success, and resources for educator professional development and curricular innovation - all to help fill the STEM pipeline to remain globally competitive and a world leader in innovation and technology.
When asked about philanthropy's role in keeping America competitive, Christopher said organizations such as his - the Communities Foundation of Texas - play a vital role in the experimentation of innovative ways to teach children, citing the Early High School Project, a public/private collaboration, which includes Early College High Schools, where traditionally underserved students have an opportunity to achieve at no cost two years of college credit or an associate degree at the same time they are earning a high school diploma. UTPA is currently collaborating with the Hidalgo ISD in the Hidalgo Early College High School.
Chevron's Davis told Educator Day participants that the opportunities in the STEM fields are great for students. "I want to start by telling you that $75,000 a year, that is the average starting salary for an engineer in our industry," he said. "But Latinos are not represented as they should be ... and that has got to change. We have to get a sense of urgency now to make a difference."
Following the roundtable, Ford Motor Company Fund and Community Services, the philanthropic arm of Ford Motor Company, also presented a check to the University in support of programs in STEM fields. UTPA received a $212,000 grant toward the Ford Partnership for Advanced Studies (PAS) programs at more than 20 schools located in South Texas.
Since 2004, the Ford Motor Company Fund has contributed more than $400,000 to support South Texas school districts.
"We are honored that Ford Motor Company is our partner. Their ongoing financial and, even more importantly, their human capital investment in our community demonstrates the Fund's commitment to South Texas, to Latinos and to education," said Dr. Roland Arriola, UTPA vice president for Community Engagement and national HESTEC committee chair.
"How do you prepare students of today for jobs that do not yet exist? You need to instill a passion for learning ... critical skills like team building, analysis, strategic thinking ... focusing more on solving problems no matter what they are," he said, noting the Ford PAS curriculum focuses on these skills.
The day also provided educators the opportunity to participate in hands-on activities and lectures during several breakout sessions with leading education specialists, scientists, researchers, and others in the fields of math, science, technology and engineering.
Marguerite Sognier and Michele Marquette, research scientists from the University of Texas Medical Branch, excited educators with their high energy presentation titled "Addressing a STEM Education Challenge: Successful Strategies to Encourage Girls to Pursue STEM Careers."
The lively duo wore vibrant-colored lab coats and flashing lights as they shared ideas, experiments and logistics information on conducting a daylong science conference, one of the ways in which they seek to educate young women about careers in technology, science, engineering and math. Sognier explained to the more than 30 educators at the session how hands-on activities should be the focus of their conferences or classroom lessons since it shows students the many facets to a career in science and gives them something tangible to take with them.
The educators role played during experiments and examined a slimy substance from "another planet" and noted its characteristics like a space researcher would, put on funky glasses like astronomers who analyze stars would, and floated a coin in a cup of water to learn about surface tension.
"The purpose of the conference we host is to dispel myths about women scientists being old maids, who are stuck alone in a lab and who don't have a life and family," Sognier said. "If you are able to reach one girl and change her life and get her to think about a career in science, then that is the key."
Maria Ramirez, a family consumer science teacher from Roma High School, said she found the session to be informative and would be using some of the ideas in her classroom.
"Through the experiments they shared, I learned how to encourage and empower my students, particularly the girls, to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math."
Ramirez said she has never done any experiments with her high school classes, but is looking forward to sharing her new knowledge with her students.
Other sessions throughout the day included helping students ace the TAKS, using state parks as outdoor classrooms, exploring Mars and using technology to engage students.
Hofmeister, who served as a luncheon keynote speaker, told educators they are the most important influences in student's lives, and in many cases an unforgettable part of their lives he said. Hofmeister, who holds a bachelor's and master's in political science from Kansas State University, said he still remembers his kindergarten teacher and even cleaning the chalkboard everyday after school in the second grade, which taught him to be responsible and accountable at an early age.
"Along the way they (teachers) enabled me to be me and it helped in my journey," he said.
"What does being a leader of students mean coming from a point of view from a person like myself who takes all your students when you are finished with them," he said. "What we need and what you as leaders can help deliver is that those students know that life is more than just tasks, life is accountability and responsibility."
He said an educator as a leader also has the job of instilling confidence in their students, and helping them become communicators.
"To succeed in business without the ability to communicate is very daunting," he said.
In addition, Hofmeister participated in a question and answer session with University students during the Science and Engineering Symposium. The symposium offered UTPA students an opportunity to showcase their science and engineering research, as well as promote the awareness of career and professional development opportunities available to them.
During his meeting with UTPA students Hofmeister discussed the career opportunities available with Shell, and told students to learn how to work in teams and also pick a career they are going to enjoy the rest of their lives.
Other symposiums held throughout the day included the College of Education and College of Business Administration Student Symposiums. The symposiums offered UTPA students opportunities to hear from superintendents, teachers, and local business leaders.
HESTEC continues Tuesday, Sept. 25 with Student Leadership Day at the UTPA Fieldhouse. UTPA and Region I GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness of Undergraduate Programs) students will converge onto campus to learn about the importance of graduating from high school and pursuing higher education as well as the opportunities available to them in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics - a primary goal of HESTEC.
For more information on HESTEC, call 956/381-3361 or visit www.hestec.org.