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Georgia Tech, GCPS program prepare students for STEM careers

Staff Photo: John Bohn Meadowcreek High School senior Genesis Lemus, 17, left, receives mentoring in math from Georgia Tech student Patricia Andre. Meadowcreek High School has been awarded a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math grant which allows them to partner with Georgia Tech educators, who are at the school assisting students on Wednesday.

Staff Photo: John Bohn Meadowcreek High School senior Genesis Lemus, 17, left, receives mentoring in math from Georgia Tech student Patricia Andre. Meadowcreek High School has been awarded a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math grant which allows them to partner with Georgia Tech educators, who are at the school assisting students on Wednesday.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn Meadowcreek High School senior student Genesis Lemus, 17, works on geometry exercises while being mentored by Georgia Tech student Patricia Andre. Meadowcreek High School has been awarded a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math grant which allows them to partner with Georgia Tech educators, who visit the school to mentor students.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn Nika Daryooni, left, mentors Meadowcreek High School 11th-grade student Bianca Perez, 16, right, in writing. Meadowcreek High School has been awarded a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math grant which allows them to partner with Georgia Tech educators, who are at the school assisting students on Wednesday.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn Diley Hernandez, Director of GoSTEM at Georgia Tech visits Meadowcreek High School. Meadowcreekl has been awarded a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math grant which allows them to partner with Georgia Tech educators, who visit the school to mentor students.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn Meadowcreek High School seniors Cesar Narvarez, 18, left, and Hector Najarro, 17, work in a lab while preparing for the First Georgia Tech Challenge for Lego robotics competition. Meadowcreek High School has been awarded a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math grant which allows them to partner with Georgia Tech educators, who visit the school to mentor students.

NORCROSS -- Students learn at different levels in the classroom.

For some, it's a scholastic superhighway, where ideas are consumed at the same rate at which they're disseminated.

Others may find themselves lagging behind the lessons. Students still struggling to master the English language, for instance, may have a hard time keeping up.

GoSTEM, a new collaboration between Georgia Tech and Gwinnett County Public Schools aims to enhance the educational experience of Latino students and strengthen the pipeline of pupils into post-secondary science, technology, engineering and mathematics education.

In the Meadowcreek cluster, Pathways to College is a major component of the recently awarded grant and collaboration. It's a research project that seeks to determine the effectiveness of certain programs in getting Hispanic students interested in post-secondary STEM careers.

But it's also an opportunity for college students to sit down with students in the Meadowcreek cluster and learn a little from each other.

Once a week, mentors like Nika Daryooni, a 21-year-old Georgia Tech student, meet with Meadowcreek students, including Bianca Perez, 16.

Daryooni and Perez spent time Wednesday morning talking about reading and writing skills.

"To increase your vocabulary, start reading a lot of non-fiction," said Daryooni, sitting across from Perez on Wednesday morning at a table in Meadowcreek High School's media center. "You can look words up in the dictionary that you can't figure out from the context."

Daryooni said basic language skills are important as Perez begins the process of selecting a college.

"I feel like I can use the knowledge I've gained to help prepare (students like Perez) for the application and financial aid processes," Daryooni said. "It's important that you master reading and writing."

It's a plus for Daryooni as well. The 24-year-old has an interest in a higher education administration career.

"I like working with this program, because it focuses on underrepresented students, mostly Latino or Latina, and I feel we need to help them," she said.

Fellow 24-year-old Georgia Tech student Patricia Andre can relate.

She works together Wednesday mornings with 17-year-old Meadowcreek senior Genesis Lemus.

With a caring smile and an encouraging touch on the wrist, Andre talks to Lemus about her geometry homework.

"How do we find the perimeter? When you think of the word, 'perimeter,' what comes to mind?" she asks Lemus, who concentrates on mathematical illustrations in her textbook.

Working through the numbers, Andre stokes the young student's interest in STEM fields. That's the idea, said Diley Hernandez, GoStem program director at Georgia Tech.

"We want to inform students about STEM careers, create an interest in STEM careers and give them the tools if they would like to pursue these careers," Hernandez said.

Careers in STEM fields include areas like software engineering, computer support, database administration, systems analysis and computer networking.

In addition to meeting once a week, students involved in the program also participate in after-school activities weekly or bi-weekly to attend classes and acquire skills that could help them along the way. Activities include workshops, college tours and community service projects.

Hernandez said activities differ depending on the age of GoSTEM's Pathways to College students.

"We have different initiatives depending on the level," she said.

In addition to nearly 100 students at Meadowcreek High School who participate, nearly 90 middle school students in the cluster are part of the program.

Hernandez said GoSTEM has robotics programs through all age levels, beginning at elementary school. "Students are able to participate either in a LEGO robotics club or create a team that will participate in a competition," she said.

Meadowcreek High School's liaison for GoSTEM, Jennifer Vaughn, said through such activities and weekly meetings with mentors, students are able to "build confidence in math and science ... and their confidence in school in general."

She said there has been a great interest in the program during its first official year.

"Students are very appreciative and grateful for the experience," Vaughn said. "In fact, there's a waiting list of students who want to do it ... students who heard about it through their peers who were very excited to join."

District Associate Superintendent Gale Hey said she's glad to hear it when students are excited about STEM careers. The GoSTEM program in particular, she said, "prepares them for success."

"When a student participates in this program, they're encouraged to be critical innovators, and I think that's going to serve Gwinnett County well ... as well as the country," Hey said.

Herandez said she hopes for success among those students who participate in the program over the next four years -- the amount of time in which the grant and collaboration last.

"This is a good step in preparing for the future," Hernandez said. "Their future begins with their interest in a STEM career and the application process to get into college."Perez, the 16-year-old Meadowcreek student said the GoSTEM program is helping her do just that.

"I'm learning more, and I can be better prepared for college," Perez said.