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Palacios and Van Vleck Educators Participate in Educator Exchange to the Czech Republic

March 28, 2012
At the U.S. Embassy in Prague

    Palacios High School math teacher, Stephanie Garcia, and Van Vleck High School counselor, Mollie Huber, recently had the opportunity of a lifetime when they participated in an educator exchange to the Czech Republic. The educator exchange is one component of a bilateral agreement signed last September between the United States Department of Energy and the Czech Republic and is designed to foster collaboration through the sharing of information and best practices in nuclear education.

    Garcia and Huber, who were sponsored by the Nuclear Power Institute (NPI), visited Brno Technical University, Dukovany Nuclear Power Plant, and both the technical high school and the general high school in Trebic. "The Czechs face many of the same issues in education as we do - reform, standardized testing, and the role of technical education," said Huber, "One huge difference though, is that Czech students must decide at the age of 15 what kind of career they will pursue." Czech students can choose a general high school or a high school that provides specialized instruction in areas such as culinary arts or in the technical fields. A few students may even opt to end their education at the age of 15 and enter the workforce, although with their lack of education they will have limited opportunities.

    Students who choose a general high school can expect to study three languages and have several math and science classes in their schedule every year. This gives all students a solid foundation when they enter a university which, for Czech citizens, is paid for by the government. Programs that students follow at the technical high school most resemble programs American students would find at a junior college. At the technical high school in Trebic, students learn electrical wiring, circuitry, instrumentation, computer programming and various other technical skills that can lead them into well-paying jobs or into university engineering programs. "The vocational opportunities for Czech students are impressive, but I'm proud that we have an educational system that teaches students to consider a variety of options," Garcia said.

    Students and staff from Technical High School in Trebic
    Students and staff from Technical High School in Trebic

    The visit to Dukovany Nuclear Power Plant highlighted another significant similarity with the United States-an aging workforce that will soon be able to retire. In the U.S., nearly 40 percent of the nuclear workforce will be eligible for retirement in the next several years. "The difficulty in finding trained, skilled workers is compounded in the Czech Republic by the fact that potential workers must pass a psychological exam before they can be hired, and if they are hired they must retake the test every two years," remarked Garcia.

    Development of the nuclear workforce is the main focus of NPI, a unique statewide partnership led by the Texas Engineering Experiment Station and headquartered at Texas A&M University. Garcia and Huber serve as sponsors for two of NPI's workforce development initiatives in secondary schools-POWERSET and Workforce Industry Training (WIT). Both organizations encourage students who have an interest in science, math, engineering, or technology to pursue careers in those fields. POWERSET's membership is limited to young women with proven aptitude in math and science while WIT serves both male and female students.

    The trip concluded with the educators visiting the U.S. Embassy in Prague where they participated in discussions about continued collaboration in nuclear education between the two countries. Finally, Garcia and Huber received a tour of the training reactor at Charles University. The facility is used by the Czech Technical University to conduct research and to train operators for local industry.

    While in the Czech Republic, Garcia and Huber were hosted by the Czech Nuclear Education Network (CENEN), an organization similar to NPI. CENEN will send two educators from the Czech Republic to Texas to be hosted by NPI in the fall.



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