Sharon Sweet, a Chemistry teacher at Newark High School wanted to help students explore career opportunities in fields that interested them. So Sharon brainstormed with other teachers and came up with an innovative idea they named “Lunch with a Scientist.” During “Lunch with the Scientist” a professional in one of the STEM fields is invited to discuss their careers – over lunch – with students currently enrolled in Advanced Placement (AP) level courses.
When the program first began, the school struggled to find professionals willing to Wayne County to speak. Therefore, Sharon pursued a grant that funded complimentary lunches for the students and presenters. The first speaker to participate was Dr. Gary R. Skuse, Professor of Biological Sciences at RIT. The first event was extremely successful. During Dr. Skuse’s visit the students were very engaged and asked many questions about his field.
I asked Sharon whether she believes that other schools should follow her lead and begin a similar program. Sharon pointed out that each school functions differently and the success of the program may different based on the student population. There was a specific need at Newark High School as students were working hard in science but struggled to understand the possibilities that awaited them after high school and college. Sharon cited specific examples of students that wanted to become engineers but were unsure of what it really entailed to be an engineer. Before the program started, most of Sharon’s students had a misconception that pursuing science in college could only lead to a career as a teacher or doctor. However, this program has helped students expand their understanding of opportunities available in the field of science.
Wondering how much time it takes to start a program like this, I asked Sharon to estimate the commitment needed by a teacher to create something like “Lunch with a Scientist?” Sharon said that it is not time-consuming to organize the event. Preparation includes making phone calls, arranging dates for the program, booking the program room, and ordering the food.
Sharon’s persistence in making this program evolve from an idea to reality has changed the way many Newark students view a STEM education and careers. As educators, it is important to not only spark students’ interest in a subject in the classroom, but also how that subject might be applied to the real world. Sharon has successfully shown us one way to help students visualize their future while they are still in high school.