Nurturing STEM talent in the Permian Basin

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Students making their way through high school and beyond can often find unexpected pathways by discovering a passion for a new subject.

In the Permian Basin, the center of North America’s energy renaissance, students are improving their science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills through new educational program opportunities.

Since 2007, the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) has been working with students and teachers to develop their STEM competencies, which are often the foundation for careers in energy.

ExxonMobil’s support of NMSI will help provide tools to the next generation of STEM talent. The company is helping schools in the Permian Basin cultivate future scientists and engineers who may then take advantage of work opportunities in their own backyard.

ExxonMobil’s support will allow for the expansion of NMSI’s College Readiness and Laying the Foundation programs, which are designed to increase student participation and performance in Advanced Placement® classes and to equip teachers with new ways of helping students develop critical-thinking skills.

To better understand the impact NMSI is having in schools across the Permian Basin, Energy Factor spoke with those who are seeing the changes firsthand. Below, local teachers and an ExxonMobil employee and father of three in a Permian Basin-area school district describe the transformation in STEM education unfolding in their communities.

Yessica Baiza

School/Location: Lee High School, Midland, TX

Subject(s): Algebra/AP Calculus

Years teaching: 9

How are you seeing parents and students respond to growing access to STEM instruction?

You can see it every day, so it’s easy to describe. There’s a real motivation from students who are looking to go into careers like chemical or mechanical engineering. The kids are excited about a tough subject. And you see that their parents are excited as well. This momentum helps everyone see the importance of STEM instruction.

Danelle Morrill

School/Location: Carlsbad High School, Carlsbad, NM

Subject(s): Chemistry, AP Environmental Science and Geology

Years teaching: 8

What’s the most interesting result you’ve seen from a particular student or group of students under your instruction?

When we started project-based learning, which is where you take a real-world situation and apply the science, the kids were asked to design an air-conditioning system for an outdated recreational center similar to one we have in Carlsbad. They had to take chemistry lessons from the classroom and apply them to figure out how the unit’s reactions would take place within that system. The kids got excited because it was a real-world scenario, and they could take STEM concepts and make them relatable to their lives.

NMSI STEM students, Permian Basin

Megan Gooding

School/Location: Midland Lee High School, Midland, TX

Subject(s): Social Sciences Department Chair

Years teaching: 11

Why are social sciences important along with STEM instruction?

If taught properly, social sciences help in analytical thinking and problem solving. If you are a doctor or an engineer, having that training and thinking is essential. Your math skills are important, but social sciences can give students a leg up in their STEM careers since they will have a different set of skills to pull from.

What effect is NMSI going to have in your classrooms?

At our school, I expect NMSI to help continue growing our Advanced Placement® scores. I think we will see students getting into colleges that kids from West Texas typically don’t get into. If we continue to push and stay right here on the cutting edge, maybe some of our students can go to Harvard.  

Lazaro Cosma

Job Title/Organization: Midland Operations Manager, XTO Energy, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil

Years with ExxonMobil/XTO Energy: 14

Why are programs like NMSI so important in advancing STEM in the Permian? How do they shape today’s children and the next generation of energy professionals?

Programs like NMSI get the tools and training into the hands of our educators. Schools that implement these programs have been shown to improve Advanced Placement® exam performance by up to five times greater than the national average.

When we’re seeing individuals come into the workforce, it really is about having that strong foundation and having critical thinkers. From new interns to professionals who’ve been with the company for years, it comes down to how they’re able to think through and solve problems. I think STEM education is foundational to building that.

Talk about how your kids have enjoyed or evolved their STEM learning.

With three kids in seventh, fifth and first grades enrolled in the Midland school district, they’ve all grown and matured differently. What’s most exciting as someone working in a technical field is when I come home and I see the number of science experiments happening in my house in any given week.

 As a parent, witnessing the hands-on part of STEM and the growth that comes with it has been a lot of fun.

Dr. Bernard Harris NMSI

Dr. Bernard A. Harris Jr.

Job Title/Organization: Chief Executive Officer, National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI), former NASA astronaut and the first African American to complete a spacewalk.

We know that while most of the support NMSI provides happens in the classroom, can you talk about the importance of teachers in students’ lives? 

The National Math and Science Initiative has been involved in providing professional development training around STEM for many years. Our programs primarily involve training the teacher in order to effectively train the student in STEM education. And if you think about it, those subjects that you loved when you were in school were influenced by a qualified, engaged, passionate teacher who delivered that program. This has a meaningful impact on the students’ attitudes toward and aptitude in STEM, allowing the kids to be prepared for the future.

Tags:   NMSI
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