Muir High School Engineering Academy Stages Successful Online Career Expo

More than 150 students attend nearly a dozen panels, featuring 75 industry professionals



When the Engineering Academy at John Muir High school looked at putting on their annual “Engineering Week,” featuring a week of career-oriented seminars, they realized they had to reimagine the experience.

They’re engineers. They figured it out. They just factored in the pandemic.

“In person, we would have put kids in front of professionals to do things like resume reviews, mock interviews, a reverse-engineering project, and even a career expo in the library with a bunch of partners who would come and create a booth, much like you would see at an expo,” explained Beverly Rodriguez, lead career technical education (CTE) teacher at John Muir High School Early College Magnet.

“But this year we had to reel back the idea and, thankfully the advisory council, the board and I, took it to the drawing board and decided that we still could create our career expo virtually.”

All of which resulted in the first virtual STEM Career Conference, and a successful one at that.

The all-day conference ran from the beginning of the school day to the end, featuring a keynote speaker, discussion groups and focused breakout panel sections for students to participate in. All told, 11 different panels were presented on science, technology and engineering.

As Rodriguez explained, “We’ve done an expo, right? You just tell everyone to show up at the same location, set up a table, and then we just bring the kids in. But what we’ve pulled off here is an actual conference. It involved logistically coordinating 11 panels, each with its own moderator—a total of 75 professionals, that students were able to meet that day.”

The morning began with an address by keynote speaker Katya Echazarreta, an electrical engineer at JPL. The address was followed by a morning round of panels with subjects like astronomy, space exploration, designing for communities in the environment, frontiers in technology, aerospace, aviation, biotech, and biomedical.

That was just the morning round. In total, 156 students signed up for the successful conference, with panels serving anywhere from 15 to 40 students at any one time.

The afternoon was geared towards environmental science, and mechanical engineering architecture, according to Rodriguez. The City of Pasadena sent engineers to talk about the water cycle in the San Gabriel Valley, as well as advances in robotics and engineering for national emergencies.

Not to be outdone, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also attended to talk with students about career opportunities.

For Rodriguez, the conference resonated with her personally.

“I’m a kid from Pasadena,” she said. “I went to school in the PUSD. And one of the things that added to my journey from high school to college, and then into careers, was representation and industry exposure.”

“For the advisory council and myself,” she continued, “one of our missions is exposing students to as many opportunities in the world of science, technology and engineering as we can, and putting students right in front of the human beings who work in those professions so that they can see that representation in themselves.”

As Rodriguez explained, “Here’s this electrical engineer, like Katya. She, like me, has a Latina background. She, like me, grew up with certain circumstances, and yet she’s still doing this amazing sort of work that she has and she’s enjoying it. And, that’s the biggest thing. Giving kids a chance to see that representation and exposing them in as many different ways as we can, so that it can really happen.”

Rodriquez was ebullient over the success of the online conference, and along with her advisory council, is eagerly looking forward to the next one.

“We started to build so much hype that day, and now we are all talking about future events that we can put on because there’s so many more people that had to get turned away,” she happily explained.

“There were many more organizations and partners that we just couldn’t fit into the schedule for the day,” said Rodriguez. “We’re looking forward to potentially putting on more events, just like this wonderful day.”

The Engineering and Environmental Science Academy is open to all students at John Muir High School, including students in the Early College program. More information is available at pusd.us/muirtours.

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