Young Texas Science Fair Champion Shows True Passion for Learning

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Nearly 1,150 of the best and brightest young science and engineering minds from across the state displayed their projects at the 30th Annual Texas Science and Engineering Fair on April 2, 2016. The fair, which was hosted by The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), is co-sponsored by the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) and ExxonMobil.

The senior division Best-of-Show was awarded to Syamantak Payra of Clear Brook High School in Friendswood who presented a project on “Brace Yourself: A Novel Electronically Aided Leg Orthosis.” Last May, Payra attended the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in Phoenix and was named the ISEF Young Scientist Award winner where he received a $50,000 prize. Payra also attended the Texas Governor’s Science and Technology Champions Academy, a weeklong residential summer camp, also sponsored by TWC, which was held at Texas A&M University in June.

Payra recently provided some insight into what inspired him to get into studying science and why he took part in TXSEF, ISEF and the Texas Governor’s Science and Technology Champions Academy.

  • How did you first become interested in science?
    • I think I grew up with science all around me, without ever realizing that it was, actually, science. I loved cars and machines and reading about how things work, and I got an optics and magnetism set for Christmas once – I think I was in kindergarten that year. My first-grade teacher did crazy science experiments with us all the time, from ketchup-packet buoyancy to CD diffraction gratings, and she urged us to take part in the school science fair. Once I did, I was hooked, and I’ve participated every year since then. In fact, this year was my fourth year in a row competing at the Texas State Science and Engineering Fair. I just remember always having a feeling of excitement and wonder at learning things through experimentation.
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  • What did you enjoy most in taking part in the Texas Science and Engineering Fair?
    • There are many rewarding aspects of participating in science fairs. To start with, you can get really helpful feedback and suggestions from judges that can look from perspectives you had never thought of before. Then, there are many interesting conversations to be had with other students and new knowledge and ideas gained from their projects. Finally, it’s always exciting and enriching to be part of an atmosphere of innovation and discovery like that in a science fair.
  • Your science fair project was such a unique idea. How did you think of it?
    • Sometime last summer, I was talking with a family friend and he happened to be complaining about chronic back pain. I knew he had had polio as a child, but I learned that he had lost almost all of the muscle in his left leg and some in his right, and has to wear leg braces to be able to stand or walk. When I asked, he described how conventional braces lock the knee joint to prevent collapse, but when healthy people walk, they bend their knee – something he can’t do, and he has to do awkward, painful movements with the rest of his body to make up for it. Initially, I had started looking for a better brace for him to buy, but when I realized that the alternatives on the market are ridiculously expensive and don’t actually help the patient walk, I decided I would try my hand at the problem and make a retrofit to the conventional brace, that could detect his walking and bend his leg just like his muscles would have.
  • What has life been like after winning at ISEF?
    • I feel really blessed to have been recognized for my work; it’s great to have the validation from scientific experts that what I’m doing is on the right path. Other than that, things have been quite the same. I guess if it was senior year, I’d be getting a break, but junior year’s coming up and there’s lots of work to do, even during the summer.
  • You recently attended the Governors Champions Academy. What did you enjoy most from your experience?
    • This was my second year at the Governor’s Champions Academy, and I really enjoyed the fact that we went to completely different labs and got to interact with a whole different set of faculty and students. It was lots of fun to learn, play, and interact with other like-minded students from all across the state. In addition, it was good to get a slightly more in-depth view of behind-the-scenes workings in labs through various departments at a university than what most high-school kids would be able to see.

Learn more about TWC-supported programs that encourage students to participate in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in order to promote pursuit of careers and educations in these in-demand fields. The Texas Science and Engineering Fair is also seeking judges for the 2017 Science Fair on April 1, 2017 in San Antonio.

Education and skills blossom into a new career for one Austin-area youth

Mario & building best091.jpgWhen Mario Castor learned that he was selected for the Workforce Solutions Capital Area (Capital Area) Excellence through Individual Achievement (Youth) award in Austin, he hesitated to even attend the Capital Area October 2015 awards presentation luncheon. Until he heard his accomplishments read out loud, he had not realized how much he had achieved in the last three years. He walked away from the luncheon with a great sense of achievement.

Mario overcame some tough circumstances. A high school dropout, he was struggling to make a living and support his family through a minimum-wage, fast-food job, when he realized he had to make some changes.

“I was hanging out with the wrong friends and I faced not being able to finish high school. I had little personal motivation and I questioned my existence [in life]. I was a shy person and full of anger, but inside me there was a flower that wanted to bloom.”

Mario’s inner desires began to take root when he found resources that not only guided him with an education plan, but also provided marketable skills that laid a foundation for employment. He registered with the Texas Workforce Commission’s WorkInTexas.com job database through Capital Area and began preparing not just for a job, but a career.

Through Capital Area’s Youth Employment Partnership he connected with American YouthWorks (AYW) where young, low-income people (ages 14-21) are exposed to work-ready and life skills through training programs and services that help them achieve their goals. Some of the programs and services include: GED test preparation or high school graduation guidance, job skills training, job placement, paid work experience, and community service opportunities. AYW provides ongoing community resources and offers project-based enrichment programs to help young people succeed.

With the help of nutrients from these resources, the flower began to grow. Over three years, Mario participated in 456 hours of training and service at AYW. He learned construction skills that included electrical wiring and air conditioning service and installation. He enrolled at Austin Community College, and within three months earned a welding certification. He continued to excel in various industry skills which led to a higher wages.

Mario is now a certified Roofing Torch Applicator working full-time for a commercial construction company and is on an in-demand career path that allows him to support his family.

“Workforce Solutions Capital Area is proud of Mario’s many accomplishments,” said Capital Area’s Deputy Executive Director Tamara Atkinson.  “Through his story, we are reminded of how valuable case management and support services are in assisting clients to reach their goals.”

When asked how he would advise other young people struggling to find their career path, he suggested that services through Capital Area’s youth partnerships can really help someone achieve beyond their expectations.

“There are people who can help. Look to Goodwill (Goodwill Career & Technical Academy) and AYW. In my family, I am the first to graduate from high school. I did it at 20 years old, but I did it! AYW became my second family and they continue to support me,” Mario shared. “I can rely on them.”

Rarely, do you see a flower in bloom standing alone. Mario’s life-shift has inspired others as well. At least a dozen of his friends have been motivated to improve their own life choices and he has laid the foundation for a better future for his six-year old son, who he now helps with his schoolwork.

“Mario’s story inspires me. Keeping young people engaged is a big part of my job, but at the end of the day, it’s their successes that keep me motivated and hopeful of the future,” said Vanessa Perez, Mario’s case manager from AYW. “Mario’s success is what happens when partnerships in the community come together, and invest in our young people.”

In addition to being a helpful dad, Mario recently served on the AYW Alumni Circle where he is able to connect with and motivate the new students in the program so that they too can blossom and reach their potential.

For more information about Workforce Solutions’ services, find your local office through our online office locator and contact them today.

Texas Science Fair to pave the way for Texas’ bright future

12967452_1265949880099668_8278143330828354782_o.jpgNearly 1,150 of the best and brightest young science and engineering minds from across the state displayed their projects at the 30th Annual Texas Science and Engineering Fair on April 2nd. The fair, which was hosted by The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), is co-sponsored by the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) and ExxonMobil.

“Innovation is what Texas does best, and this year’s winners exemplify the innovative spirit that has propelled the Lone Star State to be a national leader in job creation,” said Governor Abbott. “Texas is inspiring and encouraging a new generation of entrepreneurs, and I am confident that programs like the Governor’s Science and Technology Champions Academy will help our students excel in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields and beyond.”

Apollo 16 astronaut and the 10th man to walk on the moon General Charlie Duke and 2015 ISEF winner Karan Jerath served as the keynote speakers at this year’s awards ceremony where awards were given to the top three projects in each category for both the junior (middle school) and senior (high school) divisions.

Jerath, a freshman engineering student at The University of Texas at Austin was last year’s Young Scientist Award Winner at the International Science and Engineering Fair and was recently named as Forbes 30 Under 30 in the Energy Sector for his winning invention of an improved oil well head containment device. General Duke, a NASA astronaut and the youngest person to walk on the moon, spoke about the importance of an education in science and seeking a career in STEM fields.

Students competed in 20 life and physical science project categories. The top two projects in the life science and physical science disciplines earned first and second grand prize recognitions, and from among these winners, one individual in each division was selected for the Best-of-Show designations. This year’s junior division Best-of-Show winner, Kevin Meng of Robinson Middle School in Plano, earned the honor for his project on “Smart School Bus Pro for Android – A School Bus Tracking and Monitoring Solution for Students, Parents and Drivers.”

The senior division Best-of-Show was awarded to Syamantak Payra of Clear Brook High School in Friendswood who presented a project on “Brace Yourself: A Novel Electronically Aided Leg Orthosis.” Last month, Payra attended the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix and was named the ISEF Young Scientist Award winner where he received a $50,000 prize.

The top two finishers in each category at the Texas Science and Engineering Fair from the senior division were awarded scholarships to attend the Texas Governor’s Science and Technology Champions Academy, a weeklong residential summer camp, also sponsored by TWC, which was recently held at Texas A&M University.

“The Texas Science and Engineering Fair showcased the wonderful creativity of students across the state as they competed for recognition in 20 different categories,” said TWC Chairman Andres Alcantar who attended the fair and addressed the students at the event’s awards ceremony. “I congratulate all of the regional and statewide winners, whose continued work in STEM fields will lead to innovative solutions for real world issues facing Texas.”

The Governor’s Science and Technology Champions Academy and the Texas Science and Engineering Fair are two of TWC’s many programs designed to encourage students to learn and participate in STEM activities to acquire the knowledge and skills to equip them for in-demand occupations.

TWC also sponsors high school robotics programs and the Governor’s Summer Merit Program, which provides scholarships to enroll more disadvantaged middle and high school students in STEM skills-related summer camp programs.

Six Things Teens Should Do to Land a Summer Job

Path.jpgAs summer approaches, the number of teenagers looking for work increases dramatically. According to a 2015 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics study, the number of 16-to-19-year-olds employed or searching for work last year skyrocketed between April and July, increasing by almost 1.5 million workers for a total of more than 6.9 million in July1. Here are a few tips to keep in mind as Texas’ youth go on the hunt for summer work:

  • Stay ahead of the game
    • Getting a head start on the job application process not only means a higher chance of landing a job or an internship, it also means you’ll have more options to pick from when deciding which position fits you best.
  • Find the right job for you
    • Look for opportunities that will give you valuable experience for your future occupation. If you haven’t chosen your career path, TWC has resources like com which allows students to explore career options based on their interests, desired lifestyle and job availability in various areas and TexasCaresOnline.com which addresses education and career exploration questions.
  • Know the right places to look
    • The internet is a great place to start! Not only can it help you find jobs in your area, but it also has great tools to help create résumés and prepare for interviews. Teens interested in job-search assistance and career resources can contact their local Workforce Solutions office and visit com. Older teens also may visit TexasInternships.jobs for a free online resource.
  • Create a résumé and practice interviewing
    • Hiring representatives depend on a solid résumé and cover letter when evaluating candidates for open positions. It’s important to make sure yours is as perfect as it can be. You should ask for help from a teacher, counselor or family member. Include information about past jobs or internships, volunteer work and extracurricular activities. Practice interviewing with friends and family members to ease some of the nerves that are bound to come and help prepare good answers to interview questions. Texas Workforce Solutions offices in your area may offer workshops that will help you gain those résumé writing and interviewing skills.
  • Ask the right questions
    • Research the industry and company you’re seeking a position with and show hiring managers that you’ve done your homework and that you are eager to learn about their field. This can help your chances at landing the job.
  • Understand child labor laws
    • Know which jobs and work schedules are legal for your age group. Employers must comply with wage and hour laws and regulations enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor. In Texas, certain child labor laws apply to different age groups and different job types. The Texas Child Labor Law ensures that teens and pre-teens are not employed in an occupation or manner that is harmful to their safety, health or well-being. It is illegal to employ anyone under age 14 except under specific circumstances. Anyone who is age 16 or 17 may not be employed in the logging, wrecking, demolition and ship-breaking operations. Read a full list of prohibited occupations on the Texas Child Labor Law website.

Here are some examples of local resources available for teens hosted by regional Workforce Solutions offices that can help you find a job including:

  • Workforce Solutions of Central Texas The Creating Futures Summer Hiring Program is designed to provide on-the-job training and to introduce 150 teens to the demands and rewards associated with holding a job. Creating Futures will allow students to work no more than 40 hours-per-week earning $8 an hour.
  • Workforce Solutions Greater DallasYoung Adult Services offers teens opportunities that motivate and prepare them for continuing educational achievements, successful transition into adulthood and long-term success in employment. Eight workforce centers through Dallas County offer self-help to accomplish job search assistance, job matching and career exploration.
  • Workforce Solutions Gulf CoastWorkforce Solutions Gulf Coast offers teens a wealth of opportunities to get their future started on the right foot. Workshops that prepare them to enter the world of work. Teens can attend free seminars in its career offices to learn how to look for a job, write or revise a résumé, interview and network, or use their job skills and work experience in a new and different way.

Young Scientist Award Winner Returning to Judge Texas Science & Engineering Fair

1This spring, one University of Texas student will return to San Antonio to give back to the event that launched his success as a Texas high school science fair participant. Karan Jerath a freshman Petroleum Engineer major at The University of Texas at Austin will help judge entries from among the more than 1,100 Texas middle and high school students who will display their outstanding projects at the 2016 Texas Science and Engineering Fair (TxSEF) at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center from March 31 to April 2, 2016 in San Antonio.

The fair is currently seeking industry experts, college faculty or prominent college students like Jerath, or teachers with science expertise to serve as judges for the junior and senior divisions in 20 project categories. Judges are responsible for reviewing projects and providing encouragement and constructive criticism.

The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) continues its commitment to the success of tomorrow’s workforce by co-sponsoring the event with ExxonMobil for the 15th consecutive year along with host The University of San Antonio.

Jerath, a winner of the Environmental Engineering category at the 2015 TxSEF, went on to receive the Intel Foundation Young Scientist Award at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) competition and was featured on the Forbes 30 under 30. Jerath won at ISEF for his design of a sturdy device that can collect the oil, gas and water spewing from a broken well on the seafloor. Sensors inside the 350-ton device measure the temperature, pressure and density of the mix of gases and fluids erupting from a well. A computer then calculates how valves in the gadget should be adjusted so that the gas and oil can be collected.

Recently, we asked Jerath about his experience at the TxSEF while he was a student at Friendswood High School and what drove his passion to return as a judge at this year’s science fair.

What did you enjoy most in taking part in the science fair?

  • I enjoyed meeting all of the other students that participated in the science fair. I developed so many new friendships and I met some of the most inspiring and dedicated people from around the world! It was a fantastic opportunity for all of us to share our ideas that will hopefully change the world one day. We had so much in common and it was refreshing to be surrounded by like-minded people.

What has life been like after winning at ISEF?

  • It has been different in a very positive way. My invention has been receiving a lot of attention, which has made me more confident in my abilities. I have been working very hard to make my invention a reality. Winning ISEF has shown me that anything is achievable as long as you put in the effort and dedicate yourself to it. I am very grateful for all of the support from my family and friends during the whole process.

Why did you decide to become a judge at TXSEF?

  • Quite simply, to learn and be inspired. I really enjoy learning about different projects and the inspiration behind them. I am excited to learn about what the future generation is inventing and I am happy to support them in their journey.

Why should others get involved in the science fair as a judge?

  • Getting involved serves as a meaningful way to not only broaden your knowledge base, but also to expand your perspective. Science fairs serve as the ideal way to educate the world about growing concerns and ways to improve our society. It is amazing to see what young minds are up to and how they fix problems in creative ways. It really is very inspiring and shows you what kinds of things the next generation is interested in.

What advice would you now have to give to yourself back when you first got involved in Science Fair?

  • I grew up without a lot confidence and so I would advise myself to be more bold and self-assured in my pursuits. Thankfully through science fair, I was able to understand that even at a young age, your ideas can be taken seriously and it is up to you to make that a reality.

Individuals interested in judging can apply on the Texas Science and Engineering website. As a part of the judging process, judges will interact with regional finalists and interview finalists and encourage future disciplinary pursuits in addition to evaluating their projects.

This event offers judges the opportunity to interact with the brightest young scientific minds in Texas and the future innovators of our nation. There are three types of judges for the Texas Science and Engineering Fair: Fair Award judge, Blue Team Award judge and Special Award judge. Judges may serve as a Fair judge and a Blue Team judge by selecting both during registration.

New online parent portal provides an array of resources for Texas families

The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) Child Care Services department has created an online parent website as a new resource for families seeking information to meet the needs of children. TexasChildCareSolutions.org is an online source of information to assist parents in making informed choices for early childhood education, quality child care, children with special needs and child care financial assistance.

“We are committed to equipping parents with the iPrintnformation needed to identify quality child care and to assess early learning needs for their children,” said TWC Chairman Andres Alcantar.  “This new website will assist families as they make important decisions regarding the care and early learning of their children.”

TexasChildCareSolutions.org connects Texas parents with up-to-date parenting information, ideas and resources. With the new TexasChildCareSolutions.org website, TWC provides resources to continually improve the quality of early childhood environments throughout Texas.

TWC’s child care program offers subsidized child care services for low-income families, promoting long-term self-sufficiency by enabling parents to work or attend workforce training or education activities. TWC also provides resources to educate parents about the availability of quality child care, which enhances children’s early learning and development.

“Early childhood education and financial assistance for child care is one of the many resources available to working parents,” said TWC Commissioner Representing Employers Ruth Hughs.

TexasChildCareSolutions.org is a resource for families providing opportunities for children across the state of Texas. More information can be found at TexasChildCareSolutions.org or by emailing childcare.programassistance@twc.state.tx.us. Detailed information about TWC’s child care program and employment support resources can be found by exploring the TWC Job Seekers & Employees webpage.

TWC Inspiring young people’s participation in science and technology

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Photo: US FIRST

Students at more than 1,400 Texas high schools now have an opportunity to compete in a new statewide robotics championship and earn deserved recognition for flexing their mental muscles, thanks to the launch of the University Interscholastic League’s (UIL) pilot program.

“I applaud the UIL’s decision to implement a robotics pilot program, which will equip students with hands-on, STEM applied learning and provide them with valuable lifelong skills,” said Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) Chairman Andres Alcantar. “Programs like these inspire and prepare students for future high-demand occupations and are a critical part of ensuring Texas remains economically competitive for generations to come.”

Texas is the fourth and largest state to create a robotics state championship and has the potential to grow exponentially. The UIL’s endorsement of this first ever UIL robotics pilot program will begin during the 2015-2016 academic school year with the first competition set for July in concurrence with the nationally recognized FIRST Division Robotics competition.

TWC is proud to support youth education and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs that prepare students for high-demand careers as demonstrated through its partnership with after-school robotics programs.

TWC sponsors robotics teams and competitions through the Foundation for Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) and the Robotics Education and Competition Foundation. Last year TWC supported 444 teams, 4,807 students and 22 events.

All UIL high schools will have access to the UIL robotics pilot program. The UIL Robotics Championships: BEST Division will take place in the late fall of 2016 and the UIL Robotics Championships: FIRST Division will take place at the Austin Convention Center on July 28 -30, 2016.