New district program highlights career possibilities for middle school students

By Gary Weckselblatt

The Quakertown Community School District is introducing a speaker series to pique the interest of seventh and eighth graders in potential careers.

The Career Cafe initiative for Strayer Middle School students will have one guest speaker every two weeks. It is scheduled to launch February 20th in the school's auditorium. Future sessions will be held in the library. At least one session a month will be led by a female professional in a STEM field, as the district seeks to increase the number of girls taking pre-engineering courses.

"Our goal is to have our students be exposed to role models in various careers," said Kim Finnerty, an administrative intern at Strayer. "We do want to get more girls in Project Lead The Way classes, but we want to expose all kids to many careers. If we could ignite, spark excitement about a field early on, I think that would be wonderful."

Greg Lesher, the district's supervisor of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math), initially proposed the idea of a STEM Cafe for girls. In his proposal, he cited the low nationwide numbers from the National Science Board's Science & Engineering Indicators 2016:

"Women remain underrepresented in the science and engineering workforce, although to a lesser degree than in the past, with the greatest disparities occurring in engineering, computer science, and the physical sciences. While women make up half of the total U.S. college-educated workforce, they comprise only 29 percent of the science and engineering workforce. Female scientists and engineers are concentrated in different occupations than are men, with relatively high shares of women in the social sciences (62 percent) and biological, agricultural, and environmental life sciences (48 percent) and relatively low shares in engineering (15 percent) and computer and mathematical sciences (25 percent)."

Lesher contacted Finnerty about the idea, and after Strayer teachers, including Chris Deily and Sara Wignovich, were brought into the process, the hybrid approach was adopted to bring the opportunity to all students.

"This is why we get feedback," Lesher said. "It's about the power of the collective genius of the group. By inviting a number of interested teachers at Strayer into the design process, they were able to take an initial idea and transform it into an initiative that would serve all students."

On Tuesday, during Engineering Week, a representative from D'Huy Engineering will be giving the first Career Cafe presentation, providing an overview of engineering, presenting real life experiences in the industry and explaining how it touches the world around you.

"We believe that by listening to a potential role model speak about his or her career, the challenges they had to overcome, what they like or don't like about their job, and courses they took in high school or college, could have an impact on a student," Finnerty said.

Speakers will also include professionals in fields that may interest students in attending the Upper Bucks Technical School.

In the future, students will need to sign up for the speaker series in the Main Office. It will take place in the library, during the lunch period. Box lunches will be offered at the school lunch price.

"I'm really excited and looking forward to seeing how this initiative blossoms over the next few months," Lesher said. "As a parent of three children, including two girls, I want to support schools in creating experiences, like the Career Cafe, that I would want for my own children and I feel as though the team at Strayer is onto something special that will get rave reviews from all stakeholders."

Lesher is QCSD's representative on the Bucks County Intermediate Unit's PA SEED Ecosystem Collaborative. SEED stands for STEM Experiences for Equity and Diversity. He said several other Bucks districts are looking at Quakertown's initiative as a pilot for their own. "There's definite interest in what we're doing," he said.

Anyone interested in becoming a Career Cafe speaker should contact Finnerty at [email protected].

Gary Weckselblatt, director of communications, writes about the people and the programs that impact the Quakertown Community School District. He can be reached at 215-529-2028or [email protected].

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