About 400 teachers from middle schools throughout South Texas were encouraged to ignite interest in science and math in their students during The University of Texas-Pan American's Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology (HESTEC) week during Educator Day Monday, Sept. 24.
Now in its 11th year, HESTEC provides students and educators an opportunity to learn about the latest information on careers in the STEM fields and how to prepare to enter such jobs. Spearheaded by Hinojosa more than a decade ago, HESTEC was designed to inspire youth to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields and fill jobs being vacated by retiring Baby Boomers.
Marathon Oil Corp. is the title sponsor of this year's conference -- which is themed "Ignite the Possibilities" -- as well as the sponsor of Educator Day.
As the United States' population continues to grow more diverse and as its economy shifts to more STEM-focused fields, it is important that today's youth complete higher education, U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen and leaders in industry and education participating in the HESTEC Congressional Roundtable on Scientific Literacy told math and science teachers who were packed into the UTPA Fieldhouse.
"In our increasingly knowledge-based economy, Latino students must continue to pursue a college degree and enroll in both four year and two-year colleges," said Hinojosa, who led the roundtable discussion with Nelsen.
Although the number of Hispanic students pursuing higher education is increasing, Hispanics remain underrepresented in STEM-related fields, Hinojosa said.
Nelsen told the educators how proud he was of the work they were doing in preparing students for college, noting that the percentage of students who required remedial courses upon entering college dropped from 47 percent 10 years ago to 16 percent this year.
"You guys are doing a phenomenal job," he said.
Nelsen also updated educators on the undergraduate and graduate programs UTPA has to offer, including new fully online graduate programs, and encouraged them to continue their education.
Panelists representing various industries talked about how attaining higher education, especially in STEM-related subjects, enabled them to be successful in their respective careers.
Dr. Rene Gutierrez, superintendent of the Edinburg Consolidated Independent School District and the Region One Superintendent of the Year, told fellow panelists and educators that having partnerships with higher education institutions including UTPA is helping prepare and encourage students to go to college.
Serving on the panel with Hinojosa, Nelsen and Gutierrez were:
• Admiral Mark Ferguson, vice chief of Naval Operations, U.S. Navy;
• Dr. Subra Suresh, director of the National Science Foundation;
• Janet Clark, chief financial officer of Marathon Oil Corp;
• Hector Pineda, associate general counsel-onshore for Shell's Upstream Americas organization;
• Natalie Saiz, director of human resources at NASA Johnson Space Center;
• Armando Garza, plant manager of Coca-Cola Refreshments; and
• Rafaela Schwan, director of development for the Hispanic Scholarship Fund.
Educators participated in several hands-on activities during workshops led by representatives of companies and organizations.
That afternoon, the teachers heard from Thom K. Sneed, vice president and chief information officer of Marathon Oil, who talked about how more people are needed to enter the STEM fields because the jobs of the future will overwhelmingly be STEM-related.
Between now and 2018, two out of every three jobs will require a college degree, and most of those jobs will be in STEM fields. In the past decade STEM jobs grew at a rate three times greater than non-STEM jobs, Sneed said.
"I often say education is the gateway to the American dream," Sneed said. "A good education turns dreams into reality, changes lives and moves individuals, families and the nation forward."
Sneed reminded teachers of a statistic Nelsen mentioned during the roundtable discussion: that college graduates with STEM-related degrees earn about 26 percent more than non-STEM graduates and said they are less likely to experience joblessness.
Dr. Michio Kaku, theoretical physicist, author and popularizer of science, delivered the lunchtime keynote address, in which he told the crowd about how technological advances have created wealth and transformed societies.
But at the core of all these innovations was the inspiration these scientists received as children to pursue their love of science. Kaku talked about how Albert Einstein's death and his unfinished work prompted him to become a theoretical physicist.
Kaku said the three ingredients to becoming a successful scientist are to have a role model, parental support and a mentor.
"That's where you come into the picture," Kaku told the educators. "Young minds have to be nourished, they have to be encouraged ... there has to be enthusiasm, there has to be a sense that you are part of a larger mission."
(Kaku also was the first presenter of UTPA's Distinguished Speakers Series for the 2012-2013 school year later that evening.)
Educators also heard from Dr. Starnes E. Walker, the U.S. Navy's chief technology officer and technical director of the U.S. Fleet Cyber Command/U.S. Fleet, who told the teachers that a solid background in STEM can prepare people for a variety of careers. The U.S. Navy is a lead sponsor of HESTEC.
"If you have a good foundation in STEM ... the world is your apple," Walker said.
Walker, whose background is in physics, told the teachers about the various science-related careers he has had in the military and public and private sectors and said his education in STEM allowed him to have versatility with the jobs he has had and allowed him to be creative.
HESTEC continues Tuesday, Sept. 25 with Student Leadership Day, when several hundred eighth-grade students from all over South Texas will come to learn about opportunities available to them in the STEM fields.
For more information on HESTEC activities, visit www.hestec.org.
See more of HESTEC in this photo gallery.