BARNEGAT – No doubt it’s never too early for today’s youth to look for some direction when it comes to deciding what they want to be when they “grow up.”
Students enrolled in the Russell O. Brackman Middle School’s STEM classes had the opportunity to learn about some future career options from local professionals.
The acronym STEM stands for “science, technology, engineering, and mathematics” and is often coupled jointly with education or employment. STEM jobs are projected to grow more than any other in the next eight years according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“I organized the day so diverse students could see themselves in STEM careers,” said Dr. Krystyne Kennedy, Supervisor of Science, Technology and STEM. “Research has shown that exposure to STEM careers in the classroom can increase student engagement.”
“STEM careers are expected to outpace the growth of other careers in the near future,” Kennedy continued. “The more opportunities for students to connect with a positive role model in the profession could have impact on where they are headed in the future.”
Students heard from presenters including a dentist, speech pathologist, STEM teacher, chief officer of a medical device company, and a supply chain director of a STEM-based company.
Barnegat Dental’s Gordon Sangree, DDS talked to the students about the changes in dentistry since he first graduated with a doctorate in dental surgery in 1978. He said that he became interested in dentistry because he was a big fan of science.
“Back when I was growing up, there was a guy named Jacques Cousteau,” shared Sangree. “He was the guy who invented scuba gear in the 1940s and he had TV specials that would document his marine biology career.”
When he was in high school, Sangree said he had a really good orthodontist that got him interested in the field of dentistry. Ultimately, he drilled down his choice from orthodontics to pursue a career in general dentistry. Technology has contributed to advancements in the dental profession.
Sangree gave the students some insight about what it meant to be a “doctor of the mouth,” and explained some other interesting details. For one, dentists aren’t required to do internships or residencies like medical professionals. And for Sangree, serving his country helped fund his education.
During his presentation, students had the chance to ask questions and also review some dental molds and impressions Sangree brought along with him.
Eighth grader Susan Andrews seemed particularly intrigued by one of the dental models. When asked, Susan admitted that she thinks she’d like to go to school to become a dentist. Like Sangree, Susan’s trips to the orthodontist made it a profession of interest.
Sean O’Brien, who serves as the president of the school board, brought another perspective to the dozens of students gathered in the Brackman school library. O’Brien said that he’s put his undergraduate and graduate school business degrees to use by working for a company handling STEM-related work.
In leading the supply chain for a company named Veeco, O’Brien said he works daily with engineers and scientists that look to further technology. The company’s three big areas are semiconductor equipment, compound semiconductors, and data storage.
“Every one of you has used something that has been touched by the products my company helps develop,” shared O’Brien. “Five years ago, we were working on bendable display technology, which is just coming to market.”
“I like to think that we’re kind of living in the future because we’re developing products that will not meet consumer’s home until 5-10 years from now,” O’Brien continued. “It’s really exciting because we’re moving a million miles an hour trying to get ahead of the competition to be the first to market.”
Before they left for their next class, eighth graders Aiden Wallin and Diego Fernandez caught up with O’Brien at the back of the room. They had a question for him.
“How much money do you make?” the young men asked almost in unison.
O’Brien didn’t give the students a dollar amount other than to say he made a good living. Next, came the impetus for the inquiry. Aiden and Diego had assessed O’Brien’s footwear and decided the job might be one to consider based on the price tag associated with his sneakers.
Students learned about education as a career from Diane Roman Sendecki, who became a teacher in 1995 and currently works in the Jackson school district. She completed her MA degree after she began teaching and said that New Jersey does not currently have an undergraduate degree for STEM teachers.
Sendecki said that she’s always enjoyed children and initially thought she would enjoy working with special needs.
Instead Sendecki’s career headed in the direction of STEM instruction, which currently represents a focus as an elementary computer technology teacher. Over the years she’s also taught young children everything from physics to coding to robotics.
“I teach children how to learn through play,” Sendecki shared. “There’s no better way to learn for a child when they’re still young than to play.”
Sendecki pointed out that Legos was a popular tool used among STEM teachers. They helped students learn about building construction.
“You learn by doing,” said Sendecki. “We don’t learn by reading directions. You learn by actually touching.”
At Sendecki’s urging, a number of the students made maze like structures out of Keva planks. They watched as a small ball made its way through varied paths.
The goal of the program was to ensure students are better equipped to make decisions about their future. Kennedy said there is a crisis in diverse representation of people in STEM careers, and the presenters were able to show the students that is possible for anyone to secure a job in some facet of STEM employment.
The program represents the start of a new tradition at the Brackman School with plans for two STEM careers each year.