The University of Texas-Pan American opened its seventh annual Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology (HESTEC) Week with a day especially dedicated to teachers, superintendents and administrators Monday, Sept. 22 at the UTPA Fieldhouse.
More than 600 attended this year's Educator Day, sponsored by Marathon Oil Corporation, which offered a day of dynamic teacher-training sessions, professional development workshops and motivating presentations by world-class speakers. The goal of Educator Day is to provide teachers with new and innovative teaching techniques to help launch tomorrow's innovators in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.
Dr. Blandina Cárdenas, UTPA president, welcomed the educators early in the morning to start the first day of the weeklong event, which runs through Saturday, Sept. 27. HESTEC is held in conjunction with the Office of Congressman Rubén Hinojosa (TX-15). Cárdenas told the audience HESTEC is a program that not only will help inspire students, but the teachers who help prepare them for the future, a future that will require more educators, scientists, and engineers.
"I know that there is much more that we can do and that is why we want to continue to work with you..." Cárdenas said. "HESTEC is just the beginning. You ain't seen nothing yet."
Hinojosa also addressed the crowd during the annual Congressional Roundtable on Science Literacy, which features a prestigious group of education, corporate and government leaders who convene to discuss issues related to STEM careers, and also talk about the best practices and strategies to engage Hispanic students in the STEM fields.
"We have come a long way and I am proud to have collaborated with The University of Texas-Pan American to launch an idea which began HESTEC in 2001," Hinojosa said. "HESTEC has become a success model for the rest of the nation."
According to Hinojosa, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Higher Education, HESTEC has become a national model, and part of the reauthorization of the Higher Education Opportunity Act, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush on Aug. 14, 2008. The legislation plans to reform the nation's higher education programs to increase the affordability and accessibility of higher education. Under the Higher Education Opportunity Act, Hinojosa added a provision that would create a grant program modeled after HESTEC to encourage the nation's youth, especially minorities, to pursue careers in the STEM fields.
Hinojosa said he expects 10 similar HESTEC models to be created throughout the country in the first year and10 more the second year with UTPA leading the way in Texas with their seven-year-old program.
Among the panelists joining Hinojosa on the panel this year were Cárdenas; U.S. Congressman Henry Cuellar (TX-28); R. David Guerra, UTPA Foundation chair and International Bank of Commerce president; Ralph de la Vega, AT&T Mobility president and CEO; Gary R. Heminger, Marathon Oil Corporation executive vice president; Dr. Joyce Winterton, NASA assistant administrator for education; John Esquivel, Shell Oil Company chief ethics and compliance officer and associate general counsel; Ben G. Romero, Lockheed Martin Washington Operations director of intelligence; and William Toti, Raytheon Company Space and Airborne Systems deputy to the vice president of intelligence, surveillance and Reconnaissance Systems. Award-winning TV journalist Jose Diaz-Balart, Telemundo Network news anchor, moderated the Congressional Roundtable.
Teachers and educational administrators were able to attend 25 different professional development workshops held in morning and afternoon sessions. Topics ranged from "Forensic Science in Chemistry Education" conducted by the Region One Education Service Center to "Robots in the House" led by a representative of Microsoft Corporation.
"NASA: Activities with Out of this World Results," a session presented by Sheri Klug of the NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory, offered educators the opportunity to discover innovative ways to teach students about science through hands-on activities.
"We (NASA) want your kids," Klug told the teachers who attended her session.
"Sometimes we drop the ball with their (students) interest," said Eva Garza, a sixth grade science teacher from Mary Hoge Middle School in Weslaco.
Garza said sometimes educators focus too much on the preparation for TAKS and forget to entice students' interest through activities, which she feels still prepares them for the test.
During a presentation conducted by Kay Tobola, an education specialist with Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, a group of morning attendees were led through the five steps of the Imagine Mars Project, a national arts, science and technology education initiative. The project is designed to challenge students to explore their own community and decide which arts, scientific and cultural elements will be important on Mars. Students are then charged to develop their ideal community and share their vision through technology and art.
"The discovery step of the project explores Mars by comparing it to Earth. We only know about Mars through what we know about Earth," she said before covering a list how each compared in the areas of size, tilt of axis, temperature, atmosphere and distance from the sun for example.
Later, workshop attendees Mario A. Gomez, a first year chemistry and biology teacher at Rio Grande City High School, joined fellow teachers Jesus Garza, a ninth grade world geography teacher from the Valley View ISD, and Ruperto Escobar, a Rio Grande High School chemistry teacher, to create UV (ultra violet) creatures from pipe cleaners and UV and non-UV beads, an activity designed to develop an awareness by students of solar energy and how to protect from being exposed to too much UV radiation as well as to consider ways to protect human beings living beyond Earth's atmosphere.
At workshop end and armed with a large packet of educational resource materials, Gomez said he felt utilizing the Imagine Mars Project activities he learned about will better engage and involve his students in the classroom - a challenge, he said, teachers face.
"I think they would get a kick out of having to decide between the wants and the real needs of a community," he said. "It would make them more interested in problem-solving."
Attending his first HESTEC, Gómez said the event is inspirational for the kids.
"Many of them don't know 'if I do chemistry, what can I really do with it in the real world,'" he said. "This (HESTEC) shows them what they can do."
Heminger of Marathon Oil Corporation, who served as the luncheon keynote speaker for the educators, said the reason for his visit to UTPA's seventh annual HESTEC Week was twofold.
"I want to convey Marathon Oil's respect for the dedication of the HESTEC program to promoting math, science and technology. You are more than living up to the goal of launching tomorrow's innovators," Heminger said, who also serves as president of Marathon Petroleum Company LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Marathon Oil.
Heminger, whose more than 30 years with Marathon include experience in a variety of groups and functions, said he also wanted to share his point of view for the future as an energy company executive.
"I see a world where my company will be called on to provide an enhanced standard of living for the planet's people, plus address the needs of another 60 million children born every year," Heminger said. "But, we can't do it alone. Marathon and companies like us need what the Hispanic population has to offer."
Heminger earned a bachelor's degree in accounting from Tiffin University while employed by Marathon Oil, and earned a master's degree in business administration from the University of Dayton.
He said that energy needs are so great that resource companies like Marathon Oil will want to pioneer new concepts, new sources and new technologies.
"In a world where we need to cultivate the human resource and intellectual capital of new scientists, programmers and engineers we can't neglect the potential of the Hispanic population," Heminger said. "We absolutely must integrate the gifts, the drive and the intellect of Hispanics into the world of business and specifically the world of energy. There is no reason to go to Beijing or Bangalore for our technical people when we have a resource like UTPA right here at home."
HESTEC 2008 continues Tuesday, Sept. 23 with Student Leadership Day at the UTPA Fieldhouse.
For more information on HESTEC 2008, visit www.hestec.org or call 956/381-3361.