Texas Science and Engineering Fair Seeks Judges for 2018 Competition

More than 1,200 Texas middle and high school students will display their outstanding projects at the 2018 Texas Science and Engineering Fair. The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) continues its commitment to the success of tomorrow’s workforce by co-sponsoring the event with ExxonMobil for the 17th consecutive year. The fair, which is being hosted by The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), will be held at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center from March 23-24, 2018 in San Antonio.

As a community supported event, the science fair relies on professionals in the science and engineering fields who generously volunteer their time to this event and who are vital to its ongoing success. The fair is currently seeking judges for the junior and senior divisions for 22 project categories. Judges are responsible for evaluating and scoring student projects and providing encouragement and constructive criticism.

“I am very excited to present at the Texas Science and Engineering Fair this year. More importantly, I am honored to be one of the judges that gets to support the next generation of scientists. I encourage my colleagues from the STEM community to join me on Saturday, March 24th,” said 2018 TXSEF Keynote Speaker, Dr. Kate Biberdorf, a lecturer and director of demonstrations and outreach with the Department of Chemistry at the University of Texas at Austin.

As a part of the judging process, judges will meet and interview regional science fair finalists and provide encouragement to students pursuing future science, technology engineering and math (STEM) disciplines. This event offers professionals from a variety of STEM fields a rewarding opportunity to make a positive impact on the lives of these talented young people, while also highlighting their professions. Volunteer judges interact with the brightest young scientific minds in Texas and the future innovators of our nation.

Individuals interested in judging can apply on the Texas Science and Engineering website. There are three types of judges for the Texas Science and Engineering Fair: Fair Award judge, Blue Team Award judge and Special Award judge.

Fair Award Judges
Fair awards judges volunteer their time to evaluate projects throughout the fair. Fair award judges are assigned to a specific number of projects based on experience and qualifications in their field of expertise. The fair judge will select first choice, second choice, etc. from one of 17 categories. Each judge will be assigned a category on site during registration.

Blue Team Award Judges
Blue team award judges will select Grand Prize and Best of Show winners from amongst the winners of the individual fair categories who were determined by fair award judges. Blue team judging will begin once all fair award judging is completed and results have been tallied.

Special Award Judges
Each year over 70 professional organizations, representing a wide variety of disciplines, affiliate with the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) as special award sponsors. These governmental, industrial and educational organizations recruit their own special award judges to evaluate projects that meet the specific criteria of their awards. Special award judges represent a professional society, company, industry, or the military and have been specifically asked to evaluate projects that will receive scholarships and awards from external organizations. Judges review specific projects in relation to their organization’s scholarship or award.

Winners from the science fair’s senior division will qualify for the Intel ISEF competition in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in May 2018 and will also earn a spot at the Texas Governor’s Science and Technology Champions Academy, a weeklong residential summer camp, also sponsored by TWC, which will be held this summer at Southern Methodist University. Past winners from this event have gone on to win top prizes at ISEF, visit the White House and attend prestigious universities across the country. The Texas Science and Engineering Fair is officially sanctioned by the Society for Science & the Public, the annual host of ISEF.

For more information about the Texas Science and Engineering Fair visit www.txsef.org.

Texas Tri-Agency Partners Relaunch ‘Texas Internship Challenge’ to Connect Education with Careers

As students in high school and college begin their search for internships for the summer and fall, Texas’ Tri-Agency partners continue their work through the “Texas Internship Challenge” to help bolster the opportunities available for young people.

The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), Texas Education Agency (TEA) and the Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) joined forces to establish the Texas Internship Challenge, a statewide campaign first launched in 2017 and now relaunched in 2018, challenging industry and employer partners to increase and promote more paid internships for Texas students.

The program also challenges Texas colleges and universities to grant academic credit for and promote internships to students, and challenges students to apply for and accept internships.

TWC has created a website, TXInternshipChallenge.com, where employers can post internships and students can apply for them at no cost.

“Internships provide invaluable mentoring which positions our students for future success by increasing their skills, awareness and work-readiness for Texas careers,” said TWC Chairman Andres Alcantar. “Internships present employers with a unique opportunity to raise students’ understanding of their industry and can serve as a launch point for recruiting a future worker. I challenge Texas employers to join the Texas Internship Challenge and help the future Texas workforce understand the broad range of occupations available to them in the Texas economy.”

Through the Texas Internship Challenge, the Tri-Agency partners are addressing a workforce need which it has heard frequently from employers: That students need to learn/acquire workplace skills. Internships help students learn workplace skills, introduce and expose students to the state’s in-demand industries, and help students be more competitive for a job search. One of the four goals of the state’s 60x30TX strategic plan for higher education is for students to have identified marketable skills. These skills are acquired by students through education, including curricular, co-curricular, and extracurricular activities such as internships.

Employers gain potential full-time employees that can be recruited directly from qualified interns, as well as exposure for their company and their industry’s in-demand occupations. Internships have become an important part of upward mobility for future job seekers—60 percent of employers prefer work experience gained through an internship or professional experience.

On Feb. 5, the Tri-Agency partners met in Austin with industry and education stakeholders to discuss expansion strategies for the Texas Internship Challenge. Chairman Alcantar, Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath, Texas Commissioner of Higher Education Raymund Paredes, TWC Commissioner Representing Employers Ruth Ruggero Hughs and TWC Labor Commissioner Julian Alvarez were joined by executives from Lockheed Martin Corporation, Accenture, JPMorgan Chase, among other industry and education leaders to discuss specific goals on internship expansion strategies, which include stressing the importance of internships, examining different strategies to grow internships and listening to ways the program can expand outreach.

“We must ensure that every child leaves high school prepared for success, whether they choose to attend college, enroll in the military or enter the career field,” said Commissioner Morath. “The Texas Internship Challenge provides every high school student in Texas the stepping stone to a bright future of opportunities.”

“Working with the business community to create more paid internship opportunities is one of the most promising strategies we can offer for students, especially for the more than 60 percent of poor kids in Texas,” said Commissioner Paredes. “These students have to earn income to make their way through college. Paid internships get them into business networks, help them find a job after college, and help them acquire the marketable skills they need to get those jobs. This supports our 60x30TX marketable skills and student debt goals, and enables Texas employers to promote jobs in their industries to our future workforce.”

“In our meetings across the state employers expressed the need to have a talent pipeline equipped with work-based learning experiences. Internships will prepare students with skills to meet the demands of the 21st Century,” said Commissioner Hughs. “I applaud and continue to challenge Texas employers in helping the future Texas workforce understand the broad range of opportunities available to them in a growing Texas economy.”

“Internships not only provide important work and life experiences for students, but also set them up for future workplace success,” said Commissioner Alvarez. “The Texas Internship Challenge will help link learning in the classroom, create relevance between the different subjects studied, and help all students develop the skills required for future occupations.”

The agencies encourage internship programs as a bridge for students to explore in-demand industries and occupations. Students will benefit from mentoring, career guidance, identification of marketable skills, and learn about high-demand occupations. Employers will benefit from the opportunity to explore candidates for full-time recruitment and leverage the developing skill sets and perspectives of students, while also highlighting careers in their industries.

Learn more about upcoming internship opportunities or how to post an internship by visiting TXInternshipChallenge.com.

New Career Initiative & Programs Prepare Students with Disabilities for Employment

1.PNGTeenagers and young adults who want to jump-start their careers can benefit from Pathways to Careers, a Texas Workforce Commission initiative to expand pre-employment transition services (Pre-ETS) to students with disabilities. These career-focused services will include work opportunities, such as internships, apprenticeships, summer employment and other job opportunities available throughout the school year.

The first Pathways to Careers program is Summer Earn and Learn which will launch statewide this year. The program will provide 2,000 students with disabilities with work readiness training and paid work experience. The 28 Texas Workforce Solutions Board Offices, in partnership with Texas Workforce Solutions– Vocational Rehabilitation Services (TWS-VRS) staff will implement the Summer Earn and Learn program and coordinate the skills training and paid work experience.

The Boards will identify business partners and pay the students’ wages. Local TWS-VRS offices will assist with recruiting students and providing case management services.

Workforce Solutions Gulf Coast is partnering with the Houston Independent School District (HISD) to launch a Summer Earn and Learn program.

“We’re pleased to partner with HISD in providing summer jobs and career exploration for students with disabilities,” said Gulf Coast Executive Director Mike Temple.” We truly appreciate HISD’s commitment to the future for these young adults.”

Workforce Solutions for Tarrant County is partnering with its local schools and Goodwill Industries of Fort Worth to implement its summer program.

“In addition to Goodwill, other employers we’ve reached out to include CVS Pharmacy, Klein Tools and the City of Mansfield Park and Recreation” said Workforce Solutions for Tarrant County Executive Director Judy McDonald. “Helping students with disabilities gain work-related knowledge and skills is extremely important, and we want to enlist the support of as many employers as possible.”

Other Pathways to Careers programs are still in development or preparing to launch and will expand upon Pre-ETS and career-related education to students with disabilities. Read more about those programs in future editions of Solutions.

Simulating Real Life in the Classroom

Waco High School Automotive Technology class demonstrates classroom equipment. From left: Waco High Auto Tech Teacher Casey Daugherty, TWC Commissioner Representing Labor Julian Alvarez, Waco High Auto Tech Teacher Mario Chavez and Waco High Student Ladaruis Rollings.

Creating a learning environment similar to the real world helps jump-start students’ skill sets toward a career in nursing, welding, electrical engineering and software development. To help create these simulated environments, TWC’s Jobs and Education for Texans (JET) grants support career and technical education programs in high-demand occupations by defraying the equipment costs for the classrooms.

Laredo Community College (LCC), a JET grant recipient, is a two-campus district serving more than 12,000 students each year through a variety of academic, technical and vocational programs. The school serves many more through its adult education and literacy, continuing education and economic development courses. LCC’s Health Sciences Division prepares graduates with skills needed for employment in the nursing and health science fields. LCC purchased high-tech equipment, including SimMan, SimMom and Sim Junior patient simulator manikins, for real life medical scenarios in preparation for employment in the nursing field.

“With the purchase of these manikins, our nursing department can continue in its mission of providing a topnotch education that will strengthen our medical community by graduating highly skilled nurses,” said LCC President Dr. Ricardo J. Solis. “These state-of-the-art educational tools help ensure our students remain at the head of the pack in such a highly competitive field.”

LCC Associate Degree Nursing students, Monica Colchado and Cynthia Aguilar noted that the equipment gives them an opportunity to experience real hospital emergencies.

“Since no two patients are the same, the simulations have become an excellent tool to provide insight to differences in symptoms, sounds and level of care for a specific health care need,” said Colchado.

“Also, working in the simulation area gives us the flexibility to make mistakes and learn from them,” said Aguilar. Simulation rooms enable students to be highly trained and learn to provide the best care to a patient in a life-threatening situation.

“Students are able to perform a variety of skills and develop their critical thinking skills in a safe learning environment,” said LCC’s Nursing Programs Director Dr. Dianna Miller.

In addition to defraying the start-up costs associated with the development of a career and technical education program, JET funding focuses on projects that target high demand jobs in new or emerging industries.

Waco High School’s (WHS) Automotive Tech program received a JET grant and purchased shop equipment, such as air compressors, toolboxes, tools and new lifts so that the program meets the certification for dual credit with Texas State Technical College. The philosophy of WHS technical programs is to prepare students for a future well-paying career by providing them with the most up-to-date, industry recommended equipment and curriculum. WHS prepares students to be workforce ready and the district provides the local industry with a trained, ready-to-work qualified employee.

“The updated equipment helps the kids have a taste of what they would be using in the real world of automotive repair,” said WHS Automotive Tech Instructor Mark Penney. “They can go out and begin using their knowledge on the job or continuing their education.”

The real-world experience students receive through simulation classrooms not only prepares students for a high-demand job, but helps in determining their career path. The JET grant program allocates $10 million for the FY 2016 – 2017 biennium for eligible educational institutions through a competitive process. During the first year of funding in 2016, 25 grants totaling nearly $5 million will provide training in high-demand occupations for at least 5,394 students. During its second year of funding, 26 grant recipients received funding to train an estimated 4,900 students.

For more information on the TWC program, visit the JET Grant Program page. ■

FIRST Provides Students with Disabilities Opportunities to Compete

When Antonio Haddon started participating in (For Inspiration & Recognition of Science & Technology) FIRST Robotics, he never knew he would develop such a passion for learning.

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Photo: Heather Noel / http://www.dallasinnovates.com

“What I like most about robotics is building the robot, driving the robot and working together as a team while we cheer each other on.”

Haddon, a senior at Sunset High School in Dallas drives robots as a part of team RoboFlash 6751, the first robotics team to be comprised of students with disabilities. The students competed at the Dallas Regional FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) on March 8-11 in Irving and won one of their matches.

In 2016, the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) supported 270 FIRST teams across the state through a grant totaling $1 million to the FIRST in Texas Foundation, inspiring nearly 4,200 students to be leaders in science and technology by engaging them in exciting, mentor-based programs that promote innovation, build skills for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers, and foster well-rounded life skills.

Working in teams to solve complex problems and create a working robot, these competitions equip students with STEM applied learning opportunities.

“I felt that I gained a lot of respect from other teams,” said Haddon. “I proved to myself that I can drive in a robotics competition despite my disabilities.”

TWC supports youth education programs that prepare students for high-demand careers through its partnership with after-school robotics programs. Support for hands-on learning activities in robotics continues to grow as shown by the University Interscholastic League’s decision to officially sanction statewide robotics competitions.

“Students participating in the FIRST in Texas Robotics Competition at the University Interscholastic League (UIL) State Championship in Austin and at the International competition in Houston showcased their ingenuity, teamwork and prowess in STEM skills,” said TWC Chairman Andres Alcantar. “Texas employees and teachers who mentor these students are inspiring future Texas innovators by helping them develop and apply their programming, technical, engineering and other skills needed to succeed in the dynamic Texas economy. TWC is proud to support this successful and inspiring STEM strategy.”

FIRST was founded in 1989 to inspire young people’s interest and participation in science and technology. The programs encompass age-appropriate, hands-on activities for K-12 students. “As the demand for qualified STEM professionals continues to grow for Texas employers, programs like FIRST Robotics give students a strong start,” said TWC Commissioner Representing Employers Ruth R. Hughs. “Through the FIRST grants, we are proud to lay the groundwork by providing opportunities for 4,190 students throughout Texas to gain new skills and real-world experiences.”

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Photo: Heather Noel / http://www.dallasinnovates.com

FIRST provides opportunities for all ages. Students ages six to 10 start with FIRST LEGO Leagues Jr., which introduces STEM concepts through LEGO elements. Students in 4th-8th grades can start FIRST LEGO League teams and are challenged to develop solutions to real world problems all while building and programming a robot.

High school teams compete in the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) and FRC. FTC is considered the junior varsity level competition, where teams of up to 10 students receive a robot kit and are challenged to design, build and program their robots to compete against other teams.

FRC is considered the “ultimate sport for the mind.” It involves teams comprised of at least 25 students and adult mentors who must raise funds, design a team “brand” and build a robot to perform tasks based on real-world engineering challenges. Each season culminates with top teams competing at the FIRST Championship.

The RoboFlash 6751 team introduced students with intellectual disabilities such as autism, learning disabilities and Down syndrome to the competition and to apply their skills on the team. This special robotics program has helped bring awareness to providing learning opportunities for all students including individuals with disabilities and presents opportunities for companies to hire students as future engineers and computer programmers.

“TWC is dedicated to supporting FIRST Robotics as the positive impact this program has on Texas students continues to grow in innovative ways,” said TWC Commissioner Representing Labor Julian Alvarez. “The labor force of Texas must continue to innovate and programs like FIRST provide the training and skills our students need to compete.”

The results of a Brandeis University evaluation survey indicated that FIRST programs encourage participants to consider STEM-related careers. FIRST participants are two times as likely to major in science or engineering. Over 75 percent of FIRST alumni enter in-demand STEM fields as a student or professional after they graduate high school.

Future Leaders of Science & Engineering Workforce Compete at Annual State Science Fair in San Antonio

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More than 1,200 of the best and brightest young science and engineering minds from across the state displayed their projects at the Texas Science and Engineering Fair (TXSEF) on April 1. 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.

Students competed in 22 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, Tatiana Streidl of North Texas Academy of Higher Learning Middle School in Frisco, earned the honor for her project on “Unplanned Ingredients Investigating the Chemical Transfer of Cl2 NO3 NO2 Cr6 CHO2,” which explores potential health problems in paper plates.

The senior division Best-of-Show was awarded to Kshitij Sachan and Yesh Doctor of Plano East Senior High School in Plano, who presented a project on “Site Specific Genomic Integration of Large DNA Fragments.”

The top two finishers in each category (51 students in total) at the TXSEF from the senior division were awarded scholarships to attend the Texas Governor’s Science and Technology Champions Academy, a week long residential summer camp, also sponsored by TWC, which will be held at Southern Methodist University.

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 supports programs including robotics that encourage students to participate in STEM programs and pursue postsecondary degrees and careers in these in-demand fields.

Governor’s Summer Merit Program
This summer, Texas Workforce Commission awarded 18 grants totaling more than $1.26 million to Texas universities and community colleges for summer youth camps that focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) through the Governor’s Summer Merit Program. The grants provide the opportunity for 1,351 students, ages 14 to 21 to attend camps that will help prepare them for future high skill, high-demand jobs.

The Governor’s Summer Merit Program aims to inspire Texas youth to pursue STEM-related careers. The camps introduce students to future careers available in advanced technologies and manufacturing, aerospace and defense, biotechnology and life sciences, information and computer technology, and energy.

Several of the camps are specifically targeted to encourage young women and minorities to pursue further education and careers in STEM fields.

Some students will have the opportunity to take field trips that will give them access to high-tech equipment, such as 3-D printers and electron telescopes, while others will visit science and engineering facilities and have the opportunity to meet and speak with industry professionals.

Camp Code
New for this year, TWC awarded eight grants totaling $599,681 for Camp Code to focus on increasing the interest of middle school girls in computer coding and computer science by providing summer camps. Camp Code will offer hands-on experiences that provide students with challenging and innovative concepts and experiences in learning, problem solving and analytical skills while fostering an interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) related careers with a focus on computer science.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 American Community Survey, only 26 percent of employees in computer and mathematical occupations in Texas were women. The grants awarded to independent school districts, universities and higher education institutions are designed to spark girls’ interests in careers in computer programming from an early age, and for young women to consider careers in these highly sought after fields.

Creating summer camps that offer computer science projects that incorporate art and storytelling with robotics, video games, websites and applications can also further interest in the coding field. The coding education includes the most in-demand and popular computer science languages, such as Java, SQL, C++, Net, Perl, Ruby and JavaScript.

Camp Code provides students with activities and lessons that encourage their interest in high technology, such as working in teams to use programming languages to build games, web pages and robots. These activities can enhance girls’ interest in the industry and inspire them to pursue coding as their career.

Four Tips for Making the Most of Your Internship

IMG_0302.JPGNow that you’ve landed an internship, make sure to make the most of it. Internships can be a direct path to a full-time position. Research indicates that 60% of employers prefer candidates with relevant work experience, and 73% of interns are offered a full-time position. If this is your first time working in a professional environment, consider these tips to make a positive impression.

  1. Be Prepared: Make sure to research the company you will be interning for and understand its mission and products or services. Read the company website, look up your supervisor and key executives on LinkedIn, and connect with the company’s social media channels. You want to end the internship with either a great professional reference or a full-time job offer. Go into the experience knowing who you want to build relationships with to make those opportunities happen.
  2. Be Professional: Understand the company’s expectations for exhibiting professional behavior and attire. Remember that you will be working with colleagues and customers of all ages and backgrounds; always be professional and respectful through your words and actions. Be punctual and work hard. Stay focused on assignments and only use your mobile devices during breaks. Pay attention to details. Proofread your work before turning it in; proofread emails before sending.
  3. Be Proactive: Seek out opportunities to add value. When your work is done, ask if anyone needs help.  If you hear about someone working on something of interest to you, ask if you can help and explain how your experience can add a relevant perspective. If you see an opportunity the company could take but its employees haven’t had time yet, offer to help get the project started.
  4. Be a Team Player: Many employers indicate one of the most important skills is the ability to work with a team. Understand how your role as an intern supports the team and its objectives. Make sure to fulfill your role, offer to support others as needed, and be willing and flexible to fill in gaps to contribute to a team effort.

The Texas Internship Challenge is a campaign to increase and promote paid internships for Texas students. Go to www.TXInternshipChallenge.com to search and apply for positions.

Top 10 Tips for Internship Interviews

16831117_1328324190558558_3227410700319167262_n.jpgInternships prepare you for the real world workforce. The work experience gained in an internship enables you to transition into a career. But, in order to gain that experience, you must first be interviewed and hired as an intern.

To begin preparing for an interview, below are ten tips.

1. Prepare – Research the organization. Visit their website, read and understand their mission statement. Find out as much as you can about the company, employees, structure and clients. There is nothing that impresses an interviewer more than a candidate that shows a real interest in the organization and its goals

2. Practice – Think about why this internship opportunity is one you want and one you would be good at. You will be asked questions around your interests, skills and suitability as they relate to the internship position. Spend time before the interview preparing answers to typically asked questions. In addition, you will be asked questions that explore the behaviors or competencies required in an internship. Preparing for these types of questions beforehand will allow you to answer fluently and positively.

3. Customize – Be sure to customize your resume for each interview opportunity. Tailor your skills and experience to what is required for the job you are applying for.

4. Dress Professionally – First impressions are always important. It is always better to overdress than underdress. Dress for the job you are applying for.

5. Arrive Early – Plan to arrive about 15 minutes early for your interview. This gives you enough time to find parking, check in and prepare yourself and relax.

6. Make a good impression – It is important to create a favorable first impression from the word go. Greeting the doorman, receptionist and everyone else you meet politely. Remember to turn your cell phone off and avoid using gadgets like your tablet while waiting. Greet your interviewer with a firm handshake and ensure your body language is positive throughout the process. Examples of positive body language include smiling, eye contact, solid posture, active listening and nodding and speaking clearly.

7. The Elevator Speech – In case you don’t know what this is, an elevator speech is prepared in case you suddenly find yourself in a situation, for example, in an elevator with the president of the company – where you need to pitch yourself within a few short moments. Prepare your elevator speech beforehand, which should detail who you are, what your goals are and why you are a great candidate for the internship.

8. Include the right documents – Bring extra copies of your resume, cover letter and references with you to the interview. If you have a relevant work sample bring it along with you. An assignment, presentation, award, writing example, portfolio, term paper or research project that may be relevant to the internship opportunity.

9. Ask Questions – Before your interview think about some relevant questions you can ask the interviewer. Preparing these ahead of time shows the interviewer that you have spent time thinking about the internship opportunity. Questions to ask might include: How do you anticipate my skills can support your organization? What types of new skills will I be able to learn? What will a typical day be like?

10.  – Thank each person who interviewed you before you leave. Writing thank you emails shortly after the interview will give you an edge over other candidates who did not.

The Texas Internship Challenge is a campaign to increase and promote paid internships for Texas students with Texas employers. Go to www.TXInternshipChallenge.com to create and post resumes, conduct internship searches, and apply for positions.

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.