"What starts here, changes the world."
That is the message Jack Damron, Region One GEAR UP director, gave in his welcome to more than 600 Rio Grande Valley educators and administrators as the ninth annual Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology week of events kicked off with Educator Day Sept. 27 at The University of Texas-Pan American.
During the day, educators also were able to attend a large offering of professional development workshops, information sessions and other presentations conducted by corporate and governmental educational specialists.
Roundtable host, co-founder of HESTEC and U.S. Congressman, Rubén Hinojosa, said he has seen a change in the mindset of members of Congress regarding funding for education.
"We have made a commitment to invest far more money in education K-12 and getting our students to be college ready and in higher education, trying to make it more accessible and affordable for students to go to college," said Hinojosa, who cited the Department of Education as one of only three federal agencies that did not undergo cuts in the 2011 budget.
Hinojosa described the impact of the Healthcare and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, passed in March, on supporting students wanting to pursue higher education. The bill provided $36 billion for the Pell Grant program, raised the maximum award this year from $4,360 to $5,500 and made the grants available to those attending summer school. The bill also provided for $2.55 billion ($255 million each year for 2010-2019) to continue funding for investment in Hispanic Serving Institutions, Historically Black Colleges and other minority serving institutions and a commitment to improve math and STEM achievement by K-12 students. Hinojosa has also introduced the Graduation Promise Act to provide support to states and districts to address high school dropout rates.
"Some students don't even shoot for college because they don't think there is a way to pay for it," she said.
At UTPA, Nelsen said, the increase in Pell Grants led to a 30 percent increase in summer 2010 enrollment. He said in the Valley it is a misconception some have that students don't succeed because they are not college ready.
"Our educators are doing a marvelous job of preparing these kids. At Pan Am, 68 percent of the students are first generation students. Forty percent of the students come from families earning less than $20,000 a year. We reach out to students and help them in every way we can," Nelsen said. "We also give them the dream of graduate school."
Barrera, who also gave an afternoon keynote address to the educators, said it is important to start STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education early on, as young as pre-K, to address cultural and language differences in learners, and to support professional development by teachers. She pointed out the launch today by President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan of the TEACH campaign that will address the predicted need of 1.7 million teachers by 2017. The goal of the campaign is to increase the number, quality and diversity of people seeking to become teachers, and to raise the profile of the teaching profession in the eyes of the general.
Valdez from DOE described their Einstein Fellows program, which brings teachers to Capitol Hill to learn how to bring resources to their school districts, and other opportunities for teachers to learn alongside DOE science professionals.
"We believe the way we get the students is to get the teachers," Valdez said. "Teachers are the unsung heroes in the classroom."
The urgency to also produce more graduates in the STEM fields, particularly underrepresented Hispanics and women, was a message put forth by all of the panelists. Lyden said the many job opportunities the U.S. Navy offers are very dependent on technical education. At Marathon, Roberts said, 60 percent of its oil and gas professionals will be eligible to retire in the next five years. Within five to 10 years more than 50 percent of Boeing's engineers can retire said Tracey.
"However, only 10 percent of college students today are studying science and technology fields. China is producing 600,000 engineers a year, India 300,000, in the United States 70,000. That sounds like a lot but Boeing employs 50,000 engineers," Tracey said.
"Demographics in this country are shifting toward this community being a critical source in those fields in the future so a college education in math, science and engineering is going to be critical to our competiveness," said Marathon's Roberts.
"We need to let them know about the opportunity for these jobs, how to prepare to have these jobs that not only will improve their standard of living for themselves, for their families and their communities but also create things that protect the world and make the world a better place," he said.
Wilson, from Shell Oil, echoed Tracey's call to encourage students to see pursuing STEM fields as an opportunity. He also talked about the advantage of having the skills you learn in math and science that can be transferred to many other areas of life.
"From the moment you wake up when you pound that alarm clock, walk into the bathroom and turn on the water, fixing breakfast, to rolling out your car ... everything around you engages or is a result of math and science," he said. "All problems eventually come back to a solution involving math and science."
The panel also discussed the significance of diversity in finding solutions to problems.
"Leadership has changed to value inclusion," said Byrne. "These differences really come into play in creating better solutions."
Ochoa, who brought 24 NASA education specialists to this year's HESTEC, said NASA had four priorities to encourage students - inspire, engage, educate and employ. She and other panelists described the many programs they offered to inspire and encourage students to pursue STEM fields of study and careers.
"We need to make these fields 'unmysterious' to students," said Barrera.
Following the roundtable, four teachers in Region One GEAR UP schools were honored as HESTEC Math and Science Teachers of the Year.
The two top math teachers were Alicia Alfonso, who teaches 10th and 12th graders and is head of the math department at Palmview High School, and Sophia Dumford-Guerrero, a 12th grade math teacher at Mercedes High School and also head of her school's math department. The science teachers selected were Mary Gregory, who teaches 11th and 12th grade science at Weslaco East High School, and Paul Duke, who teaches 9th, 11th and 12th grade students at La Villa High School. A video of each highlighting their work in the classroom and their reaction to the award was presented to the audience.
The math teachers selected will attend the National Council of Teacher of Mathematics Annual Meeting and Exposition scheduled April 13-16, 2011 in Indianapolis, Ind. The two science teachers selected will attend the National Science Teachers Association's National Conference in San Francisco, Calif., March 10-13, 2011. Each teacher was also given an iPad.
Rosendo Cruz, program officer for education for ExxonMobil, said ExxonMobil has committed itself to provide educators with professional development so that they can better teach their students and fellow instructors.
"Part of the hope is that they come back with knowledge that they can show others," Cruz said.
Roundtable participant, David Roberts, executive vice president of worldwide upstream operations for Marathon Oil Corp., also gave the luncheon keynote address to educators. Marathon Oil Corp. sponsored Educator Day.
Roberts said Marathon Oil strives to balance preserving the environment, impacting economic growth and encouraging youth to pursue STEM-related careers. In the past five years, Marathon has dedicated about $3 million to scholarship funds to help students pursuing STEM fields.
"Global science and technology is what we feel students need to embark on in terms of careers ... but we can't do it alone," Roberts said. "The next astronaut or Nobel Prize winner doesn't start in such places as NASA or Johns Hopkins Hospital, but with teachers like you who are the seeds of tomorrow's innovators."
Teachers also had the opportunity to become students by attending various workshops hosted by Raytheon, Texas Instruments, Verizon, The U.S. Department of Agriculture, NASA, Purdue University, the U.S. Navy, SciGirls and the U.S. Department of Energy.
A few dozen math teachers crowded into a classroom in the College of Engineering building to learn how to use the Texas Instruments TI Navigator wireless learning system.
Marco Gonzalez, a regional instructor with Texas Instruments who conducted the class, said the company has always received much interest from Rio Grande Valley teachers in its technology. It also gives the company an opportunity to hear feedback from its customers and make needed changes, he said.
"There are always updates and upgrades, so I enjoy sharing that stuff with them ... because updates are always coming up and teachers sometimes don't find the time to stay abreast of all the upgrades," Gonzalez said. "Conferences like these provide an awesome opportunity for them to do so."
Sonia H. Silva and Vilma Martinez, math teachers from Nikki Rowe High School in McAllen, said the workshop helped them learn more about the new technology.
"It keeps me up to date with the latest technology," said Martinez, who teaches pre-calculus and algebra 2 at the high school. "I have to keep learning for these kids. I don't want to become an obsolete person and not be up to date with what is out there."
The teachers said their school received the Navigator system this school year and have been trying to teach themselves and their students the new technology.
"It's wonderful because we have so many questions," said Silva, who teaches pre-calculus and geometry. "Now they're able to help us out to clear up all those misunderstandings."
The TI Navigator system allows students' graphing calculators to be connected wirelessly to the classroom computer. The teachers said the Navigator system allows them to interact with more students. With the system, they can look at their students' work and track their progress.
So far the new devices have been popular with the students, said Martinez, who teaches pre-calculus and algebra 2 at the high school.
"At the end of the day Friday not one child stood up when the bell rang," she said. "They were all just engaged; they were having so much fun so engaged with what they're doing."
Teachers also learned what jobs await their students if they pursue STEM-related careers and how much money they could make during a session hosted by Raytheon.
"There are a lot of people looking at these kids," said Julio Brenes, senior manager of operations in engineering at Raytheon, one of the country's leading defense contractors.
Brenes and Juan Bazan, senior manager of quality engineering at Raytheon, said there is a dire need for engineers, as many professionals are preparing for retirement and not enough students are pursuing STEM-related fields.
"We're extremely concerned with the upstream shortage of engineers and scientists," Brenes said. "Nearly a third of the workforce is eligible for retirement and 60 percent of the stem educated population is over the age of 45."
That's why Raytheon has been coming to HESTEC and visiting other universities and schools to educate teachers and students about what careers are available for those who study math, science or engineering. In recent years it has been focusing on reaching out to middle school students so that those youths will consider pursuing STEM fields.
The company's efforts at UTPA are proving to be successful. Since HESTEC began in 2001, Raytheon has hired about 50 UTPA graduates, Bazan said.
HESTEC continues Sept. 28 with Student Leadership Day, where hundreds of middle and high school students will be introduced to the wide range of career opportunities in STEM fields. For a complete HESTEC schedule, go to hestec.utpa.edu.