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#IAmNYAS: Julian Rondon Rivera and Patricia Pena Carty

The Scientist-in-Residence Program matches scientists with NYC public school science teachers to conduct hands-on research with students. Meet one of these scientist-teacher pairs.

#IAmNYAS: Julian Rondon Rivera and Patricia Pena Carty

Created in cooperation with the New York City Department of Education, our Scientist-in-Residence (SiR) Fellowship Program has been pairing scientists with successful and motivated science teachers in NYC public schools for years. These pairs collaborate to scope out and lead a long-term science investigation with students while working to increase students' exposure to authentic, hands-on science, STEM professionals, and STEM career pathways.

Patricia Pena Carty and Julian Rondon Rivera are just such a pair. Patricia is a high school science teacher and the Assistant Principal at University Heights High School in the Bronx. She decided to participate in the SiR program so that her students could have the opportunity to interact with a scientist, and be able to connect what they were learning in the classroom to STEM careers. Through the SiR program, Patricia connected with Julian. Julian is now a High School Science Teacher at Bronx Envision Academy and Graduate Student pursuing his PhD at Rutgers University–Newark.

We asked them to reconnect and interview one another about the importance of participating in the SiR program. Read on to learn more about Patricia, Julian and why you should apply to be a Scientist-in-Residence:

Julian: What did you hope to achieve by participating in the SiR program, both personally and professionally?

Patricia: I have gained way more personally and professionally with the program than I ever imagined. It was validating to me as an educator to get feedback from a scientist that what I was teaching was intimately connected to the skills that my students would need to succeed in a science career. By far the coolest part of the experience was that you decided to teach high school science! I was so inspired that you lived through the daily challenges of teaching, were commuting from NJ to the Bronx, and saw the value of sharing your love of science with kids.

Julian, what inspired you to pursue a PhD, and does that influence how you teach high school science?

Julian: The main reason was the need to be competitive in academia, which now requires having a doctorate degree. In addition, I wanted to become a mentor for immigrant young Hispanics who do not believe it is possible to achieve such a degree. While still working towards my PhD, having all these years of graduate experience gives me a deep content knowledge that I can share with my students. During my work with high school students prior to becoming a NYC teaching fellow, I observed the problematic STEM gap among minorities, which motivated me to contribute to a better science education at the secondary level and better prepare students for college work.

Patricia, in what ways has the SiR program directly benefited the students who participated?

Patricia: My 10th graders who participated in the SiR program were truly empowered to continue seeking out further opportunities in science and to better prepare themselves for college-level science. Several students gained internships in science or health settings, pursued early college courses, and enrolled in advanced science courses. Additionally, my students all conducted individual scientific investigations they designed themselves and presented to the school community. Witnessing my students present their original research on South Bronx air quality at the Academy was certainly one of the most rewarding moments in my career. Their research was bold and they were motivated to collect data in order to create positive social change in their community. What more can a science teacher ask for?! The SiR program definitely enhanced the quality of their individual research projects, and also improved their confidence in presenting to a scientific community.

What advice would you give young men and women considering pursuing a PhD?

Julian: The main advice is to start getting involved with research during their bachelor studies and build a strong network of support. A PhD is hard work, which will require more than 5 years to complete, and it is a must to have a strong work ethic and the desire to complete it. While motivation might be winding down over the years, we need the advice and mentor support to achieve that goal.

What advice would you give to young women who are interested in science education or a STEM field?

Patricia: In order to inspire youngsters to love learning, it is crucial for you to embody that same sentiment. If you can authentically convey to your students that you love science and that you believe in the importance of scientific inquiry for our global community, than that's more than half the battle right there. I love to imagine my students as future pioneers in STEM fields, and I look forward to celebrating these successes in the years to come. After only a decade of teaching, I have already had the pleasure of witnessing many former students become teachers, nurses, public health professionals, etc., and the pride I feel for them rivals that of a proud aunt. In education you build another family, and the lives of your former students remain connected to your life.

Now that you are in the classroom, what are some ways that you feel STEM professionals could make more waves in attracting youth to degree programs/careers in STEM?

Julian: Definitely STEM professionals should be invited regularly to public classrooms across the U.S. Many students, especially those in low-income areas have a very vague idea of what it takes to work in science. It is paramount that STEM professionals talk to students about their work, but also about the hurdles they face every day. We definitely need more STEM professionals to teach in the classroom and bring their valuable knowledge down to many kids who are eager to learn.

In addition to in-person programs, the Academy has an extensive library of online resources for K-12 STEM educators. Check it out here.