Local educators shared expertise at the first STEM Education Central Coast Conference

Many UC Santa Cruz students and faculty members attended and helped to organize the conference.

Cassidy Almond, a UC Santa Cruz senior studying evolutionary biology and ecology, feels more confident about pursuing a teaching career after attending the recent STEM Education Central Coast Conference.

The conference, which was organized by California State University Monterey Bay in collaboration with UC Santa Cruz, was designed by and for local educators in science, technology, engineering and math. The goal was to share expertise. 

Almond was inspired by hearing ways to help English language learners grasp STEM concepts, and learning that the salary range for experienced teachers can go up to $100,000. 

“It eased my nerves about it,” Almond said.

That’s just the kind of feedback conference co-organizer Soleste Hilberg wants to hear. The UC Santa Cruz teaching education director said she supported the conference in part to address the shortage of K-12 teachers in science and math.  It’s particularly hard to retain teachers in the central coast because of the high cost of living, she said.

Hilberg said her role with the conference is part of her ongoing efforts to create opportunities for STEM undergraduates to see how wonderful it is to teach math and science.  She also focused on local youth, especially those who are Hispanic and are of color,  because there is a better chance that they might stay in the area and become STEM teachers rather than moving on. 

The conference attracted 183 people, including local math and science teachers, students preparing to be teachers in credential programs and undergraduates from UC Santa Cruz, California State University, Monterey Bay and Hartnell and Cabrillo community colleges. 

It featured booths that offered resources for teachers, including UC Santa Cruz’s Life Lab, which helps educators incorporate school gardens. 

Tyson Van, a UC Santa Cruz graduate who is now teaching physics at Santa Cruz High School, said he enjoyed getting together with so many of his peers. Among the highlights of the conference for him was listening to the keynote talk from George Matsumoto, a senior education and research specialist at Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, and learning about the many ways local teachers can get involved with the community. That included “citizen science,” the public helping with scientific research. 

Van said he appreciated the tips on how to motivate apathetic students, such as incorporating card games. He is constantly confronted with students who say physics is hard and wonder why they should have to learn it. “Young teachers in general are grabbing at ideas wherever they can get it from,” he said. “The struggle for youth these days is to keep them motivated.”

Van was a graduate student in the masters/credential program for education at UC Santa Cruz and a student in the university’s Cal Teach program, which places science, math and engineering majors in K-12 classrooms. Gretchen Andreasen, who directs Cal Teach and co-coordinated the conference, said she loved the way the conference participants were invested in the event. “To me, one of the things that was heartwarming was how many people said ‘I’ll see you next year,’” she said.