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The Impact of EnCorps

The September 2016 Learning Policy Institute study concluded that the U.S. is experiencing the worst teacher shortage since 1990. The California State Universities report that California alone needs 33,000 math and science teachers over the next 10 years. Schools with a high percentage of minority students have three times the number of shortages, while high poverty schools experience twice as many shortages as the higher socioeconomic schools.

To address the STEM teacher shortage, EnCorps has been working earnestly since 2007 to recruit the best and brightest science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professionals to teaching in California, providing meaningful opportunities to impact disadvantaged students. We believe all students deserve access to a great STEM teacher, a great STEM education and all the opportunities that those can provide for them. We’re here to address the conditions limiting high poverty, under-resourced and minority student opportunities.

EnCorps Fellows, who become EnCorps STEM Teachers and STEMx (Expert) Tutors in high need communities, are connecting students to real-world math and science career and economic opportunities, preparing the STEM workforce pipeline, and transforming public education statewide. We’re proud to share EnCorps’ success stories.

Genevive Bjorn
EnCorps STEM Teacher
San Diego, CA

Genevive Bjorn joined the EnCorps STEM Teachers Program in 2013. Prior to teaching, Genevive trained as a biomedical scientist and she worked as a scientific journalist. In 2017, she received the Maitland P. Simmons Award for New Teachers from the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). Genevive is proud to be a point person for new teachers who join NSTA. She attributes her teaching success and accolades to EnCorps.

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Genevive Bjorn joined the EnCorps STEM Teachers Program in 2013. With guidance from EnCorps, she earned her secondary science teaching credential in biology and chemistry and master’s degree in education from University of California, San Diego in 2015. Genevive interned at Eastlake High in Chula Vista, a public high school located a few miles from the U.S.-Mexico international border, where she now teaches chemistry. In 2017, she published a peer-reviewed paper on arguing from evidence in the journal, The Science Teacher, and recently received the Maitland P. Simmons Award for New Teachers from the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). Genevive is proud to be a point person for new teachers who join NSTA.

Prior to teaching, Genevive trained as a biomedical scientist specializing in vaccine development and infectious diseases with a fellowship from National Institutes of Health. She also worked as a scientific journalist and was a regular contributor to publications such as The New York Times and Nature Medicine. Although Genevive was a scientific journalist for 10 years and a biomedical scientist, she says that teaching is the hardest job she has ever done, but also the most rewarding. She is grateful for the support, mentorship and professional development EnCorps provides. During the EnCorps Fellowship, Genevive was able to observe nearly 30 classrooms, which helped her determine what age group, teaching subject, and school environment would be the best fit for her teaching career. The classroom management techniques Genevive learned at Encorps workshops have had a great impact on her practice, which lead to her successes with students and accolades. She is now a coach for new teachers at her school.

There are always students that make a big impact on your life. In her first year of teaching, Genevive had one quiet boy in particular that caught her attention. He was failing her class and his grade was steadily dropping throughout the first semester. At first, she didn’t understand why he was failing because he did such great work in class. He just wasn’t turning in any of his work. One morning, Genevive stopped at Target on her way to school and got an accordion folder. She instructed her student: “Put all your chemistry work into this folder, and at the end of the unit, give the folder to me.” It started a dialogue about what the student needed to succeed. Genevive believes that it’s always worth it to investigate why a student is not performing. After she addressed her student’s issue with organization, he ended up getting the highest score in class in the second semester. He got accepted to 6 colleges with scholarship offers. Genevive shared, “It all started with an open dialogue, and then he just blossomed.”

Bob Capriles
EnCorps STEM Teacher
Santa Clara, CA

Bob Capriles is an EnCorps Teacher at Fremont High School in Sunnyvale, CA. His math and engineering students benefit from his prior experience as an engineer and project manager with NetSuite and Yahoo. Capriles was one of six Santa Clara County teachers recognized with a 2014 Texas Instruments STEM Teaching Award. In 2017, Bob earned the Outstanding Teacher Murphy Award from the Silicon Valley Sunnyvale Chamber of Commerce. Bob feels he was meant to be a teacher, saying “This is my retirement job, and I hope to do it the rest of my life. I leap out of bed every morning to come to work. My favorite day of the week is Monday.”

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Bob Capriles, a math and engineering teacher at Fremont High in Sunnyvale, gave up a good salary and solid position in a booming industry.

Capriles, 52, worked for more than 20 years as a computer engineer and project manager at Hewlett Packard, Yahoo and other Silicon Valley technology companies. Then, in 2010, when he was laid off from NetSuite after eight months on the job, “I walked out the door and at that moment, I knew I’d never work in tech again.”

Partly that was because he saw the technology sector as notoriously youth-oriented and he feared he’d never be hired again. But mostly it was because he finally felt liberated to pursue his dream of becoming a teacher.

Capriles, a former Eagle Scout and father of three sons, had always loved coaching his kids in after-school sports and volunteering at local schools. With guidance from EnCorps, a nonprofit that helps math, science and engineering professionals become teachers by connecting them with volunteer jobs and teacher training programs, he enrolled in an intern credential program at San Jose State University in June, 2011. About six months later he was hired at Fremont High School in Sunnyvale as a math teacher. Capriles didn’t receive his teaching credential for another year and a half, attending classes at San Jose State nights, weekends and summers while working as a full-time teacher.

Once in the classroom, he got help from mentor teachers and had plenty of support from San Jose State, EnCorps and his principal and rarely felt unprepared, he said. He took a pay cut of more than 50 percent when he started teaching, and to make ends meet in pricey Silicon Valley his wife returned to work.

Now he teaches five math and engineering classes a day with a total of 135 students, and in 2014 won a Texas Instruments STEM teacher award. His goal: to train the next generation of Silicon Valley tech workers, who will hopefully bring more diversity and humanity to a field Capriles says is lacking in both.

Workers in the technology industry are predominantly white or Asian and male, according to the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, and layoffs are commonplace.

‘My favorite day is Monday

Fremont High, in the heart of Silicon Valley, is a bastion of diversity by comparison: nearly 57 percent of the student body is Latino, Filipino, Pacific Islander or African American. More than 16 percent are English learners and a third are poor.

“These students have the opportunity to change the way technology – and the tech industry – works. They can make it different,” Capriles said. “I want to see kids who are under-represented in engineering become engineers. Here, we find them, we get them excited about math and engineering, and we let them fly.”

Sophomore Rohan Rodrigues, who’s in an extra-curricular programming club that Capriles oversees, said he wants to be a computer engineer in part because of Capriles. He was among a dozen or so students who’d gathered in Capriles’ classroom at lunchtime to tinker with computers.

“He’s good at explaining the information. He has us do activities independently – I just like his teaching style,” Rohan said. “He brings his engineering background, which is really helpful.”

Despite the steep pay cut and lack of perks compared to a big tech company, Capriles said he has no regrets.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to retire, but I don’t care. This is my retirement job, and I hope to do it the rest of my life,” he said. “I leap out of bed every morning to come to work. My favorite day of the week is Monday. And trust me, I never ever felt that way in tech. Never. Ever.”

(Originally published as “Program helps switch from Silicon Valley to teaching math and engineering” by EdSource.)

LaTiera Haynes
EnCorps STEM Teacher
Los Angeles, CA

With the support and guidance from EnCorps STEM Teachers, LaTeira made the transition from being an immunologist to becoming a teacher. In 2016 she was named Los Angeles Unified School District’s 2016 Rookie of the Year and in 2017, she was selected as a finalist for the Educator of the Year award by the California League of High Schools for her outstanding contributions to her school’s biology department. She teaches Biology and Physiology and Forensic Science. LaTeira’s principal, Simone Charles, describes LaTeira: “People think of athletes as role models. Well, here we have an African-American woman scientist as a role model. She shows what can be accomplished by people who look like her.”

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With the support and guidance from EnCorps STEM Teachers, LaTeira made the transition from being an immunologist to becoming a teacher. LaTeira is passionate about teaching in high-need communities because she recognizes the impact that dedicated and qualified teachers can have on the lives of students. She believes she is a testament to the dedication and care of such teachers. Although neither of her parents went to college, LaTeira completed a Bachelor’s degree in science and a PhD in biomedical sciences at UC San Diego. She says none of this would have been possible without her former teachers’ encouragement. LaTeira is now a teacher who helps her students aspire to achieve more than their circumstances say they can.

LaTeira teaches 9th grade biology in South Los Angeles at Dymally High School. She shares, “One of my passions in life is to see people live up to their potential. I have such fun watching my students grow and accomplish what I know they can do. I tell them ‘I’m a brain personal trainer’ to help shape the way they view the class because sometimes they get the idea that teachers are supposed to give them all the answers. To that I say, ‘No. Personal trainers don’t lift the weights for you. They just tell you that you can do it and the right way to do it. So I’m your brain personal trainer, and this is what you can expect from my class.’”

LaTeira was named Los Angeles Unified School District’s 2016 Rookie of the Year. In 2017, she was selected as a finalist for the Educator of the Year award by the California League of High Schools for her outstanding contributions to her school’s biology department. LaTeira’s principal, Simone Charles, describes LaTeira: “Dr. Haynes is a huge blessing. Her energy, her knowledge, her willingness to work with students, especially those who are more of a challenge… She’s the reason kids are here. People think of athletes as role models. Well, here we have an African-American woman scientist as a role model. She shows what can be accomplished by people who look like her.”

Miguel Cruz
EnCorps STEM Teacher
Los Angeles, CA

EnCorps launched its STEM Military Pathway in 2013; to date, EnCorps has signed over 70 military veterans with STEM expertise. The EnCorps military pathway empowers veterans like Miguel Cruz, as well as active duty and reservists, to transition into second careers as teachers. In Miguel’s words, “EnCorps recognizes our military backgrounds and sees the potential of the discipline and integrity and everything that makes up a service member. Mission comes first, here is your mission: Your mission is to teach these kids.”

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A Discussion with an Army Veteran and Fellow in the EnCorps STEM Teachers Program

Fellow’s branch of service – US Army

“Mission comes first, here is your mission: Your mission is to teach these kids.”

To celebrate the US Army’s 242nd birthday, EnCorps spoke with Miguel Cruz, a Los Angeles EnCorps STEM Teaching Fellow who also served admirably in the army.

Miguel began his experience with EnCorps as a guest teacher at the STEM Academy of Hollywood, where he observed, shadowed and taught in a math classroom this spring. However, his service to his country began many years ago when he enlisted in the US Army and became a distinguished honor graduate with his aircraft mechanic’s class. He reflects on fond memories of the camaraderie and friendship he built. With his experience working on aircraft, Miguel knows he’ll use his real-world skills to increase understanding of weight and balance in his classroom.

In the fall, he will teach aerospace engineering at Canoga Park High School, where he will build a program with the $1 million grant they received. He has big aspirations for his students, saying “My hope is to become a gateway for these students to see the possible career paths they can take.”

The EnCorps military pathway empowers veterans like Miguel, active duty and reservists to transition into second careers as teachers by providing high-touch professional development, mentoring and support, and a clear pathway to the classroom. In Miguel’s words, “EnCorps recognizes our military backgrounds and sees the potential of the discipline and integrity and everything that makes up a service member. Mission comes first, here is your mission: Your mission is to teach these kids.”

We ended our conversation discussing role models, which Miguel thinks is an integral part of inspiring young minds. His brother, who passed away two years ago, served as his own role model. He paved the way for Miguel by going into aviation in the army. Miguel says, “He taught me and my younger brother if something doesn’t go one way, try a different path. That has always stayed with me. You don’t stop because you hit a wall, you find a way around it.” Miguel hopes to instill this type of perseverance and drive into the young minds he will mold as a high school teacher.