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Manteca needs STEM volunteers
Schools seeking mentors for students
pic   stem 2 n
Manteca youth work on STEM projects. - photo by Bulletin file photo

Are you a scientist, engineer, mathematician or somebody else in a STEM career that is passionate about sharing your love for science with students?

Then the San Joaquin County Office of Education needs your help.

According to Nancy Stenzler, a biologist by trade who works as a project consultant for SJOCIE, there are schools in Manteca that are interested in participating in a program that will put real-life STEM professionals inside of the classroom with students for hands-on learning projects, but there aren’t any volunteers that are currently able to step up and fill the open positions.

She’s hoping that will change.

“People with a STEM background are harder to find in the Central Valley – if you go over to the Bay Area that’s the core of the emerging businesses – and it really puts kids that are interested in learning about these things here at a disadvantage,” Stenzler said. “We want to make sure that they’re not at a disadvantage and they’re able to get that sort of hands-on experience that somebody with their expertise can provide.”

The program, which started as a science-based outreach effort in the mid- 1990s and was continued as volunteer-based STEM program when the grand funding ran out, places people with science backgrounds inside of classrooms for a short period of time to teach kids one day every two weeks for an entire school year. The amount of time needed to volunteer, Stenzler said, is about eight hours a month, and runs from September until the end of April or early May depending on the district.

All of the materials are paid for through SJCOE, and Stenzler herself hosts the training program that help set up the volunteers to succeed in a classroom environment.

And hands-on learning, she said, can make all of the difference in the world for a kid who might not necessarily enjoy book-based learning.

With technology becoming an even bigger part of emerging job markets, Stenzler said that there’s a shortage of people able to fill jobs that require STEM backgrounds and education, and in a lot of instances are very high-paying jobs.

“It’s so important to have kids that know about these things because a lot of them don’t even know that jobs like this exist in the world,” she said. “Right now, the highest paying job out of college in this field is for petroleum engineers that search for new oil sources, and it pays $180,000-a-year starting out for people who choose to go into that field.

“We want to get the word out there are lots of options out there, and Manteca Unified does a really good job of implementing this into their curriculum but we wanted to add something that will only strengthen that.”

The last time that she taught a class through the program, Stenzler said that she presented a problem to a group of sixth graders that required problem solving skills, engineering skills, and math skills – all laid out in a fun lesson plan that everybody got involved in. She told the kids that she enjoys golfing but has a problem since her arms are too short, and gave them all 20 pieces of paper and one foot tape and asked them to design a golf tee large enough to accommodate her.

While it isn’t the bridge-building example that she used to describe what engineers do, it did employ the basic tenets of science and created a scenario which was able to be built upon – like adding a math component by asking for a cost analysis by trying to build the best tee possible using the least amount of paper and the least amount of tape.

“It’s something that kids, especially those who aren’t superstars with English or math, enjoy doing because it’s hands-on science and for students that aren’t really feeling good about themselves it’s a chance to boost up their confidence,” she said. “It still incorporates math and reading because they have to document everything that they do and work out things like the lowest cost – working with a budget – but it creates a whole different dimension to learning, and that’s what we’re trying to do here.”

Anybody interested in teaching one of the volunteer classes or participating in the program can contact Stenzler by emailing her or by calling 209.430.0652.


To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.