Taking a bite out of STEM

They make the most money upon graduating from college and retain that edge over the course of their careers, so if you are a parent or teacher of college-bound students, take another look at engineering.

Last week, Gilroy middle school and high school teachers got the inside scoop on STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) pathways and how they can utilize available resources to inspire students to pursue careers in these lucrative and in-demand fields.

“There’s no better area in the whole world to pursue a STEM career than in Silicon Valley,” said Jeff Sosa, head of product at a stealth mode startup and speaker at the free Bite of Science session by the Center for Excellence in Education on Sept. 27 at Hilton Garden Inn in Gilroy.

Sosa, a Gilroy High School alum, shared his experience with nearly two dozen middle and high school teachers from Gilroy, Morgan Hill, Hollister and Salinas.

The successful software engineer turned product manager and entrepreneur got his start at Gavilan College where he studied for two years before transferring to Sonoma State University to pursue a degree in mathematics.

It was a computer programming class during his junior year at college that turned him on to software engineering.

Tracy Serros, who teaches biology and biotechnology at Gilroy High School, said the session was interesting as it gave teachers an insight into what Silicon Valley jobs are all about. She added that she’d like to see more partnerships between the school and local companies for student internships.

“It’s great, especially in the biotech context to get real world experience,” she said.

Promoting STEM is not just for high schoolers. Getting younger students to “light up” while trying to solve a particular problem is a highlight for Barbara Kalman, who teaches 7th and 8th grade science at Brownell Middle School.

“Getting them exposed to how we use technology in the world, researching online, building models, having them work in a team is huge,” she said. “It’s always exciting and interesting to see them light up when they solve a problem.”

The session also introduced the various resources available to teachers who want to push the envelope.

Both teachers cited the opportunities for instructors at Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in Moss Landing. The nonprofit oceanographic research center promotes a peer relationship between engineers and scientists and offers training workshops for teachers, as well as classroom kits that address real-world issues like ocean acidification and the role plankton plays in our ocean ecosystem.

“Teachers always like resources,” said Kalman.