Who inspired you to try harder and think bigger? Often we forget to credit the people who deserve it most: our teachers.

We recently spoke with two teachers, both graduates of UTeach Institute programs, who are passing their passion for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) on to the next generation of budding engineers and researchers. A national initiative, UTeach encourages college students pursuing degrees in STEM to consider becoming teachers.

These teachers have a particularly big impact on their students, inspiring entire classrooms to enter STEM fields. According to a study conducted by the American Institutes for Research, students taught by UTeach teachers score significantly higher on math and science exams and are months ahead of their peers.

A supporter of UTeach, ExxonMobil is recognizing the program’s 20th anniversary by learning more about why these teachers love their jobs. Lauren Cardenas is now a math teacher at her former high school, Del Rio High, located in the small southwest town of Del Rio, Texas. After school, she’s an assistant coach to the robotics team. We also spoke to Mariam Manuel, who returned to the program to work as a teachHOUSTON master teacher, training college students in the UTeach fundamentals. During our conversation with Lauren and Mariam, both told us why they love science and math and how they share that passion with their students.

Mariam guides her students as they build a circuit.

Mariam guides her students as they build a circuit. Credit: Mariam Manuel

You inspire students every day. How do your students inspire you?

Mariam: One of the most inspiring parts of teaching is how tangible your impact is. You get to see these light bulb moments when you realize your students grasp an intricate concept. Those are the rewarding moments I look forward to. It’s just such an incredible feeling being up there in the classroom not only instilling knowledge, but also empowering them and building up their confidence.

What are some common misconceptions about teaching?

Mariam: One misconception I deal with a lot is that teaching is a backup, and that maybe my plan A was leading to cutting-edge lab research. Well, it’s not a backup. I love teaching and every day I try my best to show my students how proud I am of being a teacher and to serve as a role model for them.

What’s an unexpected challenge you have to continuously overcome in the classroom?

Lauren: One comes up when meeting parents in the beginning of the school year. They often tell me, “I wasn’t good at math, so my kid’s probably not going to be good at math either.” Having those misconceptions right off the bat is tough because they affect the mindset of my students. It takes a lot of convincing for parents to realize that their child can excel as a math and science student.

Lauren and a member of the robotics team hard at work.

Lauren and a member of the robotics team hard at work. Credit: Lauren Cardenas

Can you share a rewarding moment you’ve recently experienced in the classroom?

Lauren: Seeing students connect what they’ve learned in the classroom to real life skills is pretty inspiring. I recall one time at robotics practice, my students were building a robot and on the spot they remembered and applied a mathematical equation they learned in the classroom, and because of that they were able to solve the problem on their own.

It’s also extremely fulfilling seeing the students passionate about fields that are normally thought of as boring. It motivates me to keep going because my lessons are working and truly useful.

Mariam: Years ago, a gentleman came up to me at the gas station and told me that I had taught his daughter’s AP Physics class. She had wanted to drop the class, but I called him and told him not to sign that drop form. My insistence convinced him not to let her quit. He then thanked me and said he was driving her to college, where she was studying engineering and planned to become an engineer.

You don’t forget those types of moments.

Header image: Students test Legos in wind tunnel to learn about aerodynamics during a Project-Based Instruction lesson.  Credit: Mark Tway


  • icon/text-size
You May Also Like

Explore More

Life on Mars? Alyssa Carson hopes so