“Connecting the Dots” for STEM Students in Orange County

When educators come together, they “connect the dots” for students.

It’s a phrase that’s key to helping retain students’ interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), subjects, areas where the U.S. has been seen as lagging.OCSTEM Ecosystem July 2015 Crowd Paula resized

Community influencers in the public and private sectors —  including Broadcom Foundation — have taken up the challenge of providing educators with tools that will help students maintain interest in STEM from grade school through high school.

As part of a year-long program to build a STEM tool kit that includes integration of after-school learning, more than 100 teachers and administrators from nine Orange County school districts gathered together for a day-long workshop last week.  They experienced hands-on coding with the iconic Raspberry Pi credit card-sized computer, and got a sneak-peek at how engineering careers at the University of California, Irvine, and Broadcom are within reach if their students are motivated to stay with STEM courses throughout high school.

“We’ve had issues of kids straying from science and math, and that’s because they view it through the lens of it being disjointed and not relevant to their lives, but STEM learning is 24/7 and can be extremely exciting,” said Linda Christopher, executive director of Corona del Mar-based nonprofit OCSTEM. “We don’t want them to be daunted by the coursework that would lead to a rewarding STEM career.”

OCSTEM in Action

In Broadcom’s home turf of Orange County, Calif., there’s an impressive initiative underway that’s set to reach a quarter of a million students.

The STEM Ecosystems Institute is an 18-month-long program that brings together STEM stakeholders from nine local school districts. Each “community team” is comprised of representatives from preschool/early learning, after-school programming and “informal” science centers, school administrators as well as STEM-subject teachers from elementary, middle and high schools.

OCSTEM is piloting the Ecosystems program with support from local funders, including the Samueli and Broadcom Foundations. It aims to “connect the dots” among diverse –and until now, disconnected— constituents that all are seeking the same thing: better STEM outcomes for local students; more students electing to take STEM subjects in higher education; and the creation of a robust pipeline of qualified scientists, engineers and innovators that are “homegrown” in Orange County.

“In today’s global marketplace, companies like Broadcom must compete for the same shrinking talent pool of scientists, engineers and innovators – which is causing companies to go far-afield to hire qualified individuals for exciting STEM jobs,” said Paula Golden, president and executive director of Broadcom Foundation and director of community affairs, Broadcom.  “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Orange County companies could recruit homegrown talent from Santa Ana? Anaheim?  Buena Park?  At Broadcom, we think so. And we believe that the only way this will happen is if the entire Orange County STEM community, in and out of school, formal and informal, is committed to accomplishing this herculean task.”

Establishing STEM education partnerships and alliances outside traditional boundaries creates new synergies for teachers that bring fresh ideas and energy to their work.

“We are working to create a major shift in the way that educators and education practitioners work together,” Christopher said. “We are asking ourOCSTEM Ecosystem July 2015 Prasanthi resized groups to create communication maps so they can work together to create a cohesive, articulated learning sequence that is tied to the common core and next-generation science standards.”

Last week’s event was hosted by Dean Gregory Washington at the Henry Samueli School of Engineering at the University of California, Irvine. Washington opened his Raspberry Pi Laboratory to the teachers to give them the experience of coding a 3-D printer. The program also included a presentation on the importance of coding by Broadcom Foundation’s Golden, and intimate conversations about opening  21st century science and engineering pathways by Broadcom engineers Prasanthi Sathyaprakash, Mark Castruita and Mehdi Hatamian.

“It should be our duty to spark the next brain that could potentially change the world for the better,” said Castruita, a  senior principal design engineer at Broadcom. “When given the tools and exposure to problem-solving, children are empowered to succeed in institutions of higher learning and to contribute toward advancing society.”

Long-term, OCSTEM would like to see its program codified by school districts in what is known as their “Local Control Accountability Plans,” the mechanism by which districts receive state funding.

Other measures of success would be an uptick in homegrown scientists, engineers and mathematicians.

“What employers need and what teachers teach needs to be aligned,” Christopher said. “It’s about ensuring that there is a skilled future workforce in Orange County.”

About the Broadcom Volunteers

Prasanthi Sathyaprakash handles commodities buying for the operations team at Broadcom. She also serves as co-president of the board of directors for the Orange County Science & Engineering Fair, a non-profit educational organization that has promoted the sciences in Orange County, Calif., for more than six decades. She has more than 14 years of semiconductor industry experience focused on procurement and supply chain management. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and a master’s degree in Industrial Engineering from California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo.

Mark Castruita shares his story with teachers.
Mark Castruita shares his story with teachers.

Mark Castruita is a senior principal design engineer at Broadcom. Working in the Office of the Chief Technical Officer alongside a team of highly talented engineers, he is responsible for managing the design of some of the highest performing microprocessors in the industry. Born and raised in one of the most under-served areas of the San Fernando Valley and the Los Angeles Unified School District, he strives to be an inspiration for young people to pursue careers of excellence and leadership in science and engineering. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from Boston University.

Mehdi Hatamian, Ph.D. is senior vice president of engineering for Microelectronics at Broadcom. From 1978 to 1982 he worked for NASA’s Space Shuttle program, developing hardware and software designs to support in‐flight biomedical experiments. From 1982 to 1991 he was a member of the Visual Communications Research and the VLSI Systems Research departments of Bell Laboratories. From 1991 to 1996, he was Vice President of Technology at Silicon Design Experts (SDE) Inc., a company he co‐founded in 1991. He joined Broadcom in 1996. He’s a Fellow of both Broadcom and the IEEE, having received the #1 Patent Holder” award from Broadcom in 2005 and 2006. He has published more than 50 papers and holds 94 issued patents with several pending. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from Arya-Mehr (Sharif) University of Technology in and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Electrical Engineering from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.