Summer STEM 'externships' put teachers in the students' seats

A Boeing "Teacher Externship" provides an immersive program to help teachers inspire more futures in STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

August 02, 2017 in Our Community

“Who wants to jump in the captain’s seat?”

That question from Boeing test pilot Matt Menza at the 737 MAX Flight Simulator at Boeing Field was simple. The response it elicited from the group of local middle and high school teachers he was addressing was electric –with eyes shining and hands waving like middle schoolers.

Menza was speaking to nearly a dozen Washington middle and high school science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) teachers who are participating in Boeing’s Teacher Externship program.  

Participants in the program, which is supported by Global Corporate Citizenship (GCC) in partnership with the Washington Alliance for Better Schools, say it helps them turn today’s students into tomorrow’s STEM leaders.

“It’s a place for teachers to get a look into industry and see what they want from students, what is lacking and how we as teachers can help bridge that gap,” said Nicole Maarschalkerweerd, a high school STEM teacher in the Lake Washington school district near Seattle.

The two-week program brings together educators from around the Puget Sound region, providing them an exciting and invaluable experience they bring back to their classrooms in the fall. Each day is spent in a different part of the aerospace industry, from designing parts with engineers to riveting at the Skills Processing Center.

“Today they’re flying,” Gina Breukelman, senior manager of Puget Sound Global Corporate Citizenship, said of Menza’s invitation to step into the 737 MAX flight simulator.

“This simulator is really the culmination of a week of learning how Boeing designs and manufactures parts, assembles airplanes and delivers aircraft to customers,” said Breukelman, who has run the program twice.

Switching hats from teacher to student, the educators happily strapped into the immersive, state-of-the-art simulator for a rare experience typically reserved for flight test engineers.

“It takes an entire lifetime to get this skill-set developed,” Chris Branham, a Boeing test engineer, said about piloting and designing aircraft. “Students just aren’t as interested in STEM and aviation as they should be.”

The Teacher Externship program is now in its fifth year of providing a “lifetime” view of education often overlooked by young students.

“Our goal is to develop a lesson -- based on a problem -- inspired from this experience,” said Daniel Mailhot, a high school math teacher from the Federal Way school district. “There are so many opportunities in the STEM cell.”

By Cameron Bush