STEM Education Central Coast Conference connects teachers with each other and a wealth of local resources

conference logo with map of Monterey Bay area on background of trees
People stand in front of a booth with electronics equipment
The conference will connect teachers with more than 20 local STEM education organizations through presentations and tabling displays, like this robotics demonstration from last year's event. Photo: courtesy of Gretchen Andreasen

On Feb. 3, teachers and teachers-in-training from across the region will gather at the Monterey Conference Center for the annual STEM Education Central Coast Conference, organized by the University of California, Santa Cruz and California State University, Monterey Bay. The event is designed to share strategies for student success, facilitate networking and community-building among educators, and connect teachers and local organizations to exchange ideas on region-specific science topics to help engage students. 

This year’s conference has a sustainability theme, with a keynote speech by UC Santa Cruz alumna Judit Camacho, Co-Executive Director of the local garden-based education organization Life Lab. Other participating organizations include the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, CalRecycle, Elkhorn Slough Foundation, Monterey Bay Area Mathematics Project (MBAMP), and the Monterey Institute for Research in Astronomy. 

Gretchen Andreasen, director of UC Santa Cruz’s Cal Teach Program, and Soleste Hilberg, director of the Teacher Education Program in UCSC’s Education Department, served on the planning team for the conference. Andreasen said the local focus is part of what makes the conference uniquely valuable. 

“Some of the teachers who we work with have said that professional development meetings are often too abstract and not focused enough on the particular local needs of the community,” she explained. “In our region, we’re lucky to have really rich local STEM resources, from both informal and formal educational institutions, so this conference draws on those resources to serve the specific needs of our local teachers and our local student population.”

The meeting will cover a wide range of topics, from climate change to artificial intelligence. UC Santa Cruz Associate Professor of Education Eduardo Mosqueda will present a session on how language-learning is related to math education opportunities, UCSC Assistant Professor of Education Emily Reigh will demonstrate how students can use data to explore social justice and climate change issues in California’s food systems, and UCSC teacher educator Johnnie Wilson will discuss how to support parents in teaching math to their children. MBAMP, based in UCSC’s Mathematics Department, will offer a session on integrating math games into instruction.

There will also be a meet-and-greet with representatives from 11 local school districts and offices of education. Teachers from each of the participating districts can attend for free, and others who would like to attend can purchase tickets online. Students from UC Santa Cruz and other local universities and colleges who are interested in teaching will also participate in order to connect with the local STEM education community and learn more about the challenges and rewards that come with the career. 

Both Andreasen and Hilberg consider the event part of their broader efforts to recruit and train STEM teachers and close gaps in academic achievement and college readiness among K-12 students in California. There’s currently a shortage of math and science teachers in the state, and Hilberg says part of the problem is a lack of understanding about the benefits of a career in education. She hopes that college students who attend the conference will be reassured and empowered to pursue their interest in teaching. 

“We’re trying to get the word out that teaching is really a great career,” Hilberg said. “Salaries for mid-career and advanced-career teachers are actually highly competitive, plus the profession offers retirement pensions, high job security and stability, and STEM teachers have high rates of job satisfaction. But the most important thing is that it’s incredibly rewarding to be able to make a positive difference in the lives of kids.”

UC Santa Cruz offers several programs to help students explore and prepare for careers in teaching. UCSC’s Teacher Education Program, led by Hilberg, trains new K-12 teachers through a one-year combined master’s degree and teaching credential program, while Cal Teach, led by Andreasen, places university STEM majors in K-12 classrooms as teaching interns.