STEM Inspiration from the Gonzales Family

We’re so proud of Martha Gonzales and her daughters, Kristine, Kimberly and Karen, who were featured in an NBC5 story about engineering mentors for Hispanic Heritage Month. The Gonzales family has been involved with High-Tech High Heels programs for years, and they recently spoke at the#LatinasinSTEM101 conference in Dallas to inspire future engineers. Read their story and be inspired!

In the Spotlight: Q&A with Educator LaShonda V. Roberson

STEM Equity Training with NAPE

It has been a busy year for STEM equity training in North LRobersonTexas! With funding from industry partners and foundations including High-Tech High Heels, the National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity (NAPE) worked with educators in four DFW-area school districts during 2013-2014: Dallas, Plano, Richardson and Lancaster. Since High-Tech High Heels brought NAPE to DFW in 2011, NAPE training has reached over 1,000 teachers, counselors, administrators and faculty in six school districts, the Dallas County Community College District and UTeach Dallas at The University of Texas at Dallas.

For educators, it is an eye-opening experience to learn how subtle, unintended biases in classrooms impact underrepresented student populations in STEM, such as females, Hispanics and African Americans. While bias is almost always unintentional, it can have far-reaching consequences for all students and can deter them from reaching their full potential in school or pursuing STEM careers. NAPE’s STEM equity training teaches educators to recognize the signs of bias and implement strategies to provide equitable education opportunities for every student.

We caught up with LaShonda V. Roberson, a middle school science teacher at Raul Quintanilla Sr. Middle School in South Oak Cliff, a school in Dallas ISD’s Imagine 2020 Strategic Feeder Pattern. Roberson is also a 2014 Texas Instruments Foundation “Innovations in STEM Teaching Award” winner. She attended the “Micromessaging to Reach and Teach Every Student” training, which was made possible by a grant to NAPE from the Communities Foundation of Texas.

HTHH: Why did you attend the STEM Equity training with NAPE and High-Tech High Heels?
LVR: I attended the STEM Equity training for a couple of reasons. First, to identify common mistakes teachers make in providing a fair and equal educational opportunity for all students regardless of gender and ethnicity. Secondly, to identify pedagogical strategies which will hopefully improve the representation of girls and underrepresented demographic groups in STEM courses and careers.

HTHH: What is STEM Equity training and why is it needed?
LVR: STEM equity uses research-based teaching methods to train teachers to empower and motivate underrepresented groups such as female, Hispanic and African-American students. The goal is that these students will pursue careers in STEM professions later in life. The STEM Equity training is needed because many teachers have biases that they may be unaware of, which often deters students from being interested in subjects they “think” are too challenging or not “meant” for them.

HTHH: What were the top things you learned from the training?
LVR: I learned to be more conscientious about what I’m saying nonverbally to my students, through my facial expressions and tone of voice. I also learned that there are a plethora of STEM careers that are accessible to all of my students. They aren’t as scary as they sound! Finally, I learned that I should take every opportunity to connect what we are doing in science class to everyday life as it relates to STEM.

HTHH: What was your favorite part of the training?
LVR: The presentation by the High-Tech High Heels speaker was a highlight. She is an engineer and shared her personal experience on how she broke through the glass ceiling. She shared with us the many educational levels and careers that all fit into STEM and really brought home how accessible these careers can be. I also especially enjoyed the STEM Careers Scavenger Hunt and plan to implement it in my classroom around our Career Day program.

HTHH: How has the training changed how you teach and engage with students in the classroom?
LVR: As a teacher, I tend to be very curriculum oriented to prepare my students for the next level. In recent feedback, it was suggested that I look for opportunities to reveal the many dimensions of all students in the room. It could be as simple as grouping students by “who likes salty versus sugary snacks.” This was an “ah ha” moment for me. In reflection, I realized that students need to not only learn science, but also to appreciate differences and to see others as multi-faceted personalities. I want to help my students develop their inter-personal skills so they can become effective collaborators with their future colleagues.
I am also more aware of how I interact with my students. Am I fair when I ask questions, make remarks, follow up on questions or remarks, discipline, praise, encourage, or instruct my students.

HTHH: How has the training benefited your students?
LVR: I am more cognizant of how my “micromessages” affect the classroom climate. I always want my students to feel supported and to feel comfortable making mistakes so they can learn from those mistakes. I want them to take risks, such as asking questions when everyone else is silent.

HTHH: How was this experience unique from other trainings you’ve experienced?
LVR: This session wasn’t about legislation, curriculum or testing – all of which are important – but it was about the importance of recognizing and removing gender or cultural biases that are sometimes so ingrained into our society that we are unaware of how they systematically hold students back and how this can affect generation after generation. I am very motivated to make STEM accessible to ALL of my students.

HTHH: What advice do you have for girls who are unsure about pursuing a STEM career?
LVR: I would let them know that there are a wide variety of STEM careers that require different levels of education and can match a variety of interests (i.e. indoors versus outdoors, associates degree versus doctorate degree). I would then point out some practical tools such as career interest surveys, Sciencebuddies.org or the Occupational Outlook handbook so she could explore her options.

HTHH: Is there anything else you’d like to add about the benefits of STEM Equity training?
LVR: Quintanilla Middle School sponsors an annual Career Day, and as a first time college graduate in my family, finding college-educated professionals to speak to my students has always been a challenge. However, this year I am reaching out to the High-Tech High Heels Speakers Bureau to connect with local STEM professionals to encourage my students to pursue a career in a Science, Technology, Engineering or Math field. I’m very excited to have access to such a resource.

In the Spotlight: Q&A with Physics Camp Alumna Kristine Gonzales

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Kristine Gonzales, a native of the North Texas area, says that attending the 2006 High-Tech High Heels AP Physics Camp inspired her to become an engineer. Today, she has a bright career ahead of her at BAE Systems, where she is working in the Operations Leadership Development Program (OLDP) in New Hampshire while also pursuing a master’s degree. She shared with us how her experience from the AP Physics Camp shaped her future, and her advice for girls who want to follow in her footsteps.

HTHH: Where did you go to college and what was your major?
KG: I received my undergraduate degree from Northeastern, where I majored in Mechanical Engineering and minored in Business Administration. I am now back at Northeastern pursuing my master’s degree in Engineering Management part-time while working at BAE Systems full-time.

HTHH: What does it mean to be in the Operations Leadership Development Program at BAE Systems?
KG: The OLDP is a three-year program that develops high-potential recent graduates into future leaders at BAE Systems through challenging rotation assignments, technical and leadership training, advanced education, leadership opportunities and mentorship. In this unique program, I have opportunities to work on projects that I would most likely not have had until many years into my career, such as working directly for the Director of Operations and attending meetings with the VP of Operations. Right now, I’m finishing up my first rotation in continuous improvement, where I’m working on implementing lean manufacturing principles.

HTHH: Did you always want to be in a STEM career?
KG: When I was younger, I was always fascinated by the weather and thought it would be cool to be a meteorologist. During middle school I realized I was very strong in the math and sciences, and in high school I learned about engineering and decided that’s what I would pursue.

HTHH: Is that when you were introduced to the High-Tech High Heels AP Physics Camp?
KG: I applied to the High-Tech High Heels Physics Camp for Girls during my sophomore year. The camp was offered at my high school and taught by one of the physics teachers, Dr. Jensen. At this point, I had not had Dr. Jensen as a teacher, but I had heard great things about her. I had signed up to take advanced physics classes in my junior year, and I knew that being in this summer program would prepare me to take on the challenges ahead.

HTHH: How was your camp experience?
KG: Although I knew the Physics Camp would be rewarding, I did not expect to have as much fun as I did. Dr. Jensen is one of the best instructors that I have ever had. Her enthusiasm and passion for teaching makes the most difficult problems seem possible. At camp, I also met other girls who were interested in STEM, and professionals who had taken that same direction.

HTHH: Did the AP Physics Camp prepare you for the challenges of college?
KG: My physics background was the foundation for choosing a mechanical engineering degree. During my freshman year of college, I actually had my mother mail me my high school physics notes so that I could use them for studying!

HTHH: You were sure about your path from a young age, but not all girls are as confident. Who gave you the confidence and inspiration to pursue STEM?
KG: My biggest inspiration is definitely my mother. I’ve never encountered anyone else who is so passionate about learning and is not afraid to ask for help. She inspires me to never stop and always keep striving for more. I’ve also been very inspired by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. I read her book “Lean In” this past summer and loved her story and advice for young professionals.

HTHH: What is your advice for girls who are unsure about pursuing a STEM career?
KG: I am currently in a rotational program that hires people from all disciples. Because of my engineering background, I have no constraints when it comes to choosing my next rotation. Some of the people in my program who don’t have an engineering background are limited because they aren’t eligible for certain positions. When I talk to them about the different engineering careers that are available they always say, “I wish I had known about that when I was choosing a major.” People think with a mechanical engineering degree you will be sitting at your desk doing tolerance analysis all day or with an electrical engineering degree you’ll be stuck programming for 12 hours a day. There are so many other things you can do with these degrees!

Also, there are many types of engineering degrees besides mechanical, electrical and civil engineering. There are industrial, systems, environmental engineering and many more. My advice would be to research your options and learn about the many opportunities that exist with these degrees. There are also many resources available in schools. My college had weekly chemistry and physics study sessions that were sponsored by the Society of Women Engineers chapter. Other colleges have similar resources.

HTHH: Now for a few fun questions! Are you ready?
KG: Sure!

Apple or Android? I’ve had an iPhone since it first came out!
Favorite apps? MyFitnessPal and Pinterest. I’m in the process of planning my wedding, so I am always pinning things!
What’s on your DVR? Scandal, Modern Family, and Say Yes to the Dress (I’m planning a wedding so that makes it ok, right?)
What music are you streaming? I’ve been obsessed with Justin Timberlake since ‘N Sync.
Instagram or Twitter? Definitely Instagram. I’m one of those weird people who takes pictures of my food.
Who’s your favorite geek? I like Jamie from Mythbusters. He always wears cool hats.