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Leading with Our 'Fingerprint' and Collaboration in STEM Education

To celebrate Engineers Week, three panelists from the STEM track at Teach For America's 25th Anniversary Summit share the importance of increasing diversity and access to STEM education.
Wednesday, February 24, 2016

It’s Engineers Week—a time to celebrate how engineers make a difference in our world, increase the public dialogue about the need for engineers, and share ways to bring engineering to life for kids, educators, and parents.

STEM fields are at the core of our country’s creativity, and all students—especially students from low-income backgrounds and students of color—should be fully included in the equation. By 2018, 8 million STEM jobs will be available in the United States, but the vast majority of American students will be unprepared to fill them. However, we can change that.

At Teach For America’s 25th Anniversary Summit earlier this month, hundreds of STEM educators, partners, organizations, and leaders gathered to discuss ways to increase diversity and access in STEM education.

Read more below from three panelists: Dr. Janell Catlin, Director of the STEM Initiative for Teach For All, Destiny Woodbury, TFA-Houston STEM Teacher Coach/KIPP Science Teacher, and Bootstrap Program Director Emmanuel Schanzer

Destiny Woodbury

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TFA-Houston STEM Teacher Coach/KIPP Science Teacher

Being an opening speaker and panelist for the STEM Initiative at #TFA25 ignited my passion for this work and pushed me as a STEM leader in Houston to think about other opportunities I could bring to our children across the city of Houston.

When I think about expanding our impact, it is crucial to know who are the movers and shakers of this STEM moment. Attending the STEM Leadership track helped me to identify these amazing people and the incredible work that they’re doing for thousands of students across our nation. In addition, I’m reminded of how crucial it is to collaborate. It created that palpable hunger within me to connect, learn, and grow from them. Therefore, as soon as I arrived back to Houston, I connected with two educators who are implementing CS at their schools in neighboring districts and came away with invaluable information that will help me better support my STEM teachers.

I know what's at stake for kids in our country. There will be millions of jobs available in STEM careers in the upcoming years. However, our kiddos are not prepared to fill them. It’s up to us to work together, expand our impact, collaborate, and then cultivate our lifelong leaders.

Emmanuel Schanzer

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Bootstrap Program Director

My experience at #TFA25 reminded me of one of the great struggles that all educators face: finding the balance between principles and practice. The people I spoke to were idealistic, hungry, and focused on making great impact while implementing the values they hold dear.

A lot of the questions I fielded on the panel came from teachers who found themselves struggling to reconcile beautiful ideals with difficult classroom realities. They didn’t want to know about any particular technology or tool; they wanted to know how computing might help or hinder their search for a balance between those forces.

The moments that drew the biggest applause weren’t about clever demos or software features. They were about the ethics, values and principles that ground our work. Computer Science and Technology were merely one stage on which this struggle played out, just as I saw it play out on other stages in the other sessions I attended. I remember being in their shoes myself, and I sympathize with their struggle while envying the openness that can only come from grappling with such an intractable problem. The way each teacher resolves this struggle becomes something of a fingerprint, which shows itself in everything they do.

It is all too easy for us in the CS Education business to place the emphasis on our technology. After all, computer science is cool! But that does a disservice to the work we do, and to the teachers we serve. We should lead with our own “fingerprint", not with our technology. We should be as explicit as possible about the compromises and conclusions we have come to when balancing our principles with our practice, and wear them proudly on our sleeves. A faster robot, a more dynamic demo, or a better programming language are all good things, but only when we ground them in this balance are they truly fit for the classroom.

Dr. Janell Catlin

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Director, STEM Initiative – Teach For All

I am truly grateful to have been a part of the experience at Teach For America’s 25th Anniversary Summit.  As a moderator for one of the STEM track breakout sessions, “Support from STEM-Rich Institutions,” I was inspired by the many powerful voices of the day.

I engaged the panel in a discussion around how STEM-rich institutions can support new teachers to learn STEM content, understand the challenges around expanding opportunity for all in STEM, specify the challenges between educating students for the 21st century and/or career readiness, and focus on the importance of building soft skills such as communication, collaboration, and emotional intelligence.  

The heartfelt, thoughtful, and personal questions that audience participants raised during each of the two panels were amazing.  It fascinated me to be in a room of so many dedicated professionals who are each, individually, making waves and traction for improving the STEM and Computer Science education experience for students.  

It’s my belief that we are certainly moving towards great progress in supporting diversity, equity, and access in STEM Education and Computer Science.  I am grateful to be a part of the work for transformative change and based upon my experience at #TFA25, I am very hopeful for the future.

Register for Our Spotlight Webinar: Diversity in STEM Education

On Tuesday, March 1, at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT, join us for a discussion on disparities in STEM fields, and how a focus on PK-12 STEM education leadership can lead to greater opportunities for groups traditionally underrepresented in the STEM narrative. Register here.


Join our diverse force of leaders shaping the course of our nation.