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"Math and science are not just subjects taught in school but career paths you can consider."

John Jay Middle School math and science teachers Zachary Miller and Christine Watroba hosted a STEM Assembly on October 26. Fifteen district parents with careers in science, technology, engineering, and math—fields known as STEM—spoke to middle school students about their work. 

“Math and science are not just subjects taught in school but career paths you can consider,” said Greg Kastanis, middle school science teacher, to the students gathered.    

Students met by grade, and the parent panelists were roughly matched to the scope of study of each grade.

Panelist Fiona Spencer, a project manager for the New York Power Authority, spoke to sixth graders about creating and moving electricity. “How to make and distribute electricity is all STEM thinking,” she said, referring to skills of predicting, decision-making, testing and problem-solving.

The first presenter for the seventh grade, David Kershner, is a lawyer with a background in chemistry. “Are monopolies good or bad?” he asked the group, leading into a discussion of his speciality in patent law for the pharmaceutical industry.

“When I wake up, I have no idea what each day will hold,” Michael Schechter, President of Computer Experts Group, a technical consulting firm, told eighth graders. “The most challenging part of my job is dealing with frustrated people.”

After each panelist gave a brief overview of his or her work, students could ask questions.  

“Is it difficult to become a scientist?” asked an eighth grader.

“If you have passion for a subject—if you want to do it, and you put in the work, it’s no harder than any other field,” said Dr. Irina Ellison, a biologist who teaches at Mercy College. She co-founded and co-directs the Art in the Lab Workshops, which give scientists and artists the opportunity to collaborate and create art based on active laboratory experiences.  

“Why do we have to do science experiments in school and take tests?” asked another student.

“Because science is awesome!” said Susanne Rust, an investigative journalist.  Rust  directs the Energy and Environment Reporting Project at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

“What’s your favorite part of your work?” another student asked.

“I work with the brightest people all around the world,” said Paul Llanos, Product Manager at Applied Materials, a materials engineering company for the semiconductor, flat panel display and solar photovoltaic industries.