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News from STP: STEM Teachers Get Firsthand Experience

July 23, 2013

    Many high school students do not know - or have thought about - what they will do when they graduate. Some have never visited a college, and are not aware of college choices. Most don't understand that there could be career opportunities in their own backyard.

    "Coming here and touring the site - it's eye opening," said Jill Lowry, a chemistry teacher for Bay City High School and a Workforce Industry Training (WIT) sponsor.

    Lowry is one of four Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) teachers who are visiting the site this summer. STP hosts STEM teachers each summer as part of its Workforce Development plan, coordinated by Clarence Fenner.

    The effort is a partnership with the Nuclear Power Institute at Texas A&M University and works to familiarize STEM teachers with the nuclear industry and STP's career opportunities. The teachers, in turn, pass on to their students their experience of working at a nuclear energy facility, and the type of career opportunities that are available.

    About 400 to 500 workers will leave the South Texas Project over the next five years - many of those retiring after more than 20 years with the company.

    The teachers keep a rigorous schedule while at the plant, learning everything it takes to become an STP employee.

    "I'm amazed at how much security employees go through every day," Lowry said. "I guess in my mind, I thought you would get your card and then you would swipe it to get in and maybe have to update it every once in a while.

    The group was surprised at how open and honest the plant is about past mistakes across the industry, and how it exchanges lessons learned with other facilities.

    "The transparency is amazing," said Sherry Martinez, a chemistry teacher at Van Vleck High School and a POWERSET (Powerful Opportunities for Women Eager and Ready for Science, Engineering, and Technology) sponsor. "The fact that you hear what has happened at other plants, and what can be done to prevent them from happening again. Other industries don't talk about that to their visitors."

    The group also was impressed with how seriously safety was considered, especially radiological safety.

    "We knew exactly what to expect," said Adrian Canales, a geometry teacher for El Campo High School.

    The cleanliness impressed Physics Teacher, Paul Guevarra from Foster High School.

    "I was struck with the idea that it has to be perfectly clean. Foreign material is costly. Just the smallest amount can cause millions of dollars worth of damage," Guevarra said. "It was amazing to see what must be done to ensure foreign material is kept out."

    All the teachers agreed that they were surprised at the variety of positions that are available at STP.

    "It's good to know that there's more available than an operator position," Canales said. "It helps me explain to students that with a two-year degree and a background in algebra or geometry, you can have a career."


    Jill Lowry, Sherry Martinez, Paul Guevarra and Adrian Canales are area STEM teachers who participated in a workforce development program that familiarizes science, technology, engineering and mathematics teachers with the nuclear industry.