Symposium Highlights STEM Careers for Area High Schoolers

Approximately 1,000 students from South Bay high school academies attended the Generation STEM Symposium on June 2 in the Loker Student Union. The event, which was presented by the South Bay Workforce Investment Board (SBWIB), showcased careers in science and technology, with presenters from businesses throughout the Los Angeles region.

Jan Vogel, executive director of the South Bay Workforce Investment Board, addresses area high school students on careers in the STEM disciplines.

Jan Vogel, founder and executive director of SBWIB, says that the event was modeled after a conference SBWIB had previously conducted for teachers to help teachers in their efforts to instill in students a curiosity about STEM education.

“[The students] are going to hear from industry people, which will hopefully get them excited to stay in school,” said Vogel before the symposium. “They’re all enrolled in STEM academies, so they already have some math and science background. [Teachers] want to keep them doing that and show them what opportunities are available if they stay with the program.”

Jennifer Saito of SpaceX encouraged students to enter the space transport industry.

Guest speakers included Alicia Villarreal, regional representative for U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis; Jennifer Saito, university and corporate outreach for space transport manufacturer SpaceX; and Alex Gharagozlow, executive director of operations for Phenomenex, Inc., which specializes in chromatography.

Villarreal told the students that President Barack Obama regards STEM fields as the future of the nation.

“He has challenged us to excite you about the future possibilities if you stay in school and study science and math,” said Villarreal. “Our future depends on it. If we are going to remain a competitive country in our global economy, then it is up to you to take advantage of the education our country has to offer you.”

Rod Hay, associate dean of the College of Natural and Behavioral Sciences, appealed to the students’ interest in entertainment by describing the invention of automatic doors and ultrasound technology in “Star Trek” as prefigurement to their widespread use today.

“The science fiction of yesterday is the reality of today,” said Hay.

In view of the aging science and technology workforce, Hay said that a new generation will soon be needed in STEM fields.

“A lot of the scientists that we currently have are 50 years old or older,” he said. “[You] are the people who are going to create the inventions we’ll see tomorrow.”

Graduate student Nathan Nikotan (at far left) facilitates a program that introduces high school students to computers with the help of undergraduate computer science majors. L-R: Boian Kolev, Samori Price, Jesse Navas, and Brian Herrera

Vogel, an alumnus of CSU Dominguez Hills (Class of ’71, political science/economics; ’73, teaching credential), established SBWIB in 1984. He said that his organization and the university have always partnered to preserve, educate, and enhance the local workforce for nine cities in the South Bay, including Carson, El Segundo, Gardena, Hawthorne, Hermosa Beach, Inglewood, Manhattan Beach, and Redondo Beach.

“In the mid-1990s, when [aerospace professionals] were being laid off, we were right here at Cal State Dominguez with a teacher training program for engineers. You can make lemonade out of lemons, that’s what we try to do.”

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