They could have been at the beach. They could have been poolside.
But these dedicated educators spent two hot summer days in August immersed in high-tech learning at the ninth annual SEMI High Tech U Teacher Edition, sponsored by NYSUT and hosted by the TEC SMART facility in Saratoga County. And they couldn't be happier.
The 37 NYSUT members included elementary, middle- and high school teachers, school-related professionals and guidance counselors. There were also three education and high-tech industry guests from Florida rounding out the 40 summer learners.
Sharada Greene said one reason she wanted to attend was to help her answer the FAQs - frequently asked questions - from her high school math students.
"In my math classes, they want to know 'where am I going to use this? How am I going to use this?' And 'why do I need to know this?'" explained Greene, a member of the United Federation of Teachers. She will begin her ninth year as a high school math teacher in the fall and wants to return to school, "fueled with information so I can answer those questions. And broaden their horizons in terms of career aspirations."
In her address to the group, NYSUT Vice President Catalina Fortino called the program, "professional learning at its highest level" and thanked the participants for giving up their time in the summer in order to broaden their knowledge of the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, and bring back the skills interests and enthusiasm to the classrooms.
Fortino said it was fitting the program has been expanded to elementary and middle school educators. "We don't want to wait until high school to get our students enthusiastic about STEM course work." Fortino said.
Fortino said that her brother Andrés' teachers were his STEM champions, recognizing and nurturing his natural abilities and encouraging him in middle and high school to pursue STEM course work, despite the challenges of being an English Language Learner and an immigrant. Fortino's brother, the product of the public school system culminating with a doctorate from a CUNY system school, is an electrical engineer.
SEMI High Tech U Teacher Edition is an two-day, hands on program packed with information about the STEM fields, and how to facilitate learning and engage students from elementary through high school. Educators become students and industry leaders become their teachers. Vincent Villaumé is the site operations manager for Applied Materials, a leading manufacturer of semi-conductor chips. The son of two retired teachers and brother of an in-service teacher, Villaumé has led the session "Microchips and Solar Chips" module for all nine years of the conference.
In this session, educators work diligently on manufacturing error-free semiconductor "wafers" in the hands-on portion of the module on simulating the process of semiconductor chip manufacturing. Jared Foro, who finished his first year of teaching middle and high school science in June, said his students also pepper him with questions about the high-tech world and that that he, too, would like to have ready answers for them. He is a member of the Northville Teachers Association.
For Greene, helping inspire her students is something she takes very seriously. "I think it's really important as an African American - looking at the spectrum in terms of diversity and opportunity - that I'm able to inspire children that look like me, and also inspire young women to go into mathematical- and science-related careers."
In the module "Education and Career Pathways," participants learned that the types of high-tech jobs are many and varied. While some paths require four years or more of college, there are many that require an associate's or similar post-high school degree.
SEMI Foundation Executive Director Leslie Tugman said the company recently celebrated its 200th SEMI High Tech U program. This includes the teacher edition and the four-day student edition programs. A report released recently by the SEMI Foundation shows the positive educational impact this program can have on students. The survey of 520 SEMI High Tech U student edition alumni found 87 percent are currently enrolled in or have completed their higher education; 80 percent of those students attend or attended four-year colleges or university; and the remaining 20 percent chose two-year or technical colleges. (The report compares this with the national rate of students finishing higher education of 59 percent.)
Druhti Majmudar has been a teaching assistant for math and science for two years. Prior to changing careers, Majmudar spent seven years as a microbiologist and has a master's degree in microbiology. She is a member of the Watervliet Teachers Association.
Majmudar said she appreciates the hands on activities, calling it an "eye-opening" experience. She said it makes her "more confident to do hands-on activities with the students."
Educators will leave with a thick booklet and a flash drive with their review materials, the confidence that comes with the hands-on learning they receive and, perhaps for some, most important, some solid answers to the high-tech FAQs.