Over 30 ninth grade students calmly enter the classroom. After a quick pause for an obligatory dollop of hand sanitizer, they find their assigned seat. Phones are stowed. Pencils come out. Standing at the front of the class is not their usual math teacher, Ms. Christie Romero. It’s EnCorps Fellow, Frank Chuang.

It’s Take-Over Day! 

A day when Chuang, a former Tesla engineer with a PhD in mechanical engineering from UC Berkeley, teaches a 90 minute Algebra I class. Take-Over Day is the culmination of 10 weeks of guest teaching two hours per week; A key component of the EnCorps STEM Teachers Program®.

“The EnCorps program is very structured,” explains Chuang. “I began with three weeks of classroom observation focused on a specific theme each week. I then began working with students during their group work, followed by co-teaching a few lessons, and finally preparing and teaching my 90 minute take-over day class.”

In addition to his experience as a guest teacher, Chuang brings to the classroom a belief and passion in educational equity based on his work as a tutor for San Quentin State Prison inmates. “That experience really taught me the importance of equitable education,” shares Chuang. “While the program was great, it felt like a bandaid on a bigger issue. We should have given them (inmates) the right first chance.”

Speaking of first chances, Take-Over Day is Chuang’s opportunity to put his guest teaching and tutoring know-how into practice. To ensure the students felt comfortable, he followed his host and mentor teacher’s usual class structure. Chuang kicked-off the lesson with an ice breaker by asking the students if they would rather win $5 million dollars, the Nobel Peace Prize, an Olympic Gold Medal or gain one million followers on Tik Tok—a tough choice for a group of 14 year olds! He then led a warm-up exercise, followed by his lesson and group work.

A unique aspect of Chuang’s lesson— solving systems with elimination—was his ability to link his industry experience to the theory. The students were asked to work with a fictitious store owner to determine how many batteries they would need to protect their delicate inventory of seafood in case of a power outage.

Chuang is not the only STEM professional in the classroom. His host and mentor teacher is also a former STEM professional with finance expertise. Romero has hosted EnCorps Fellows for over seven years. She even welcomed two EnCorps Fellows to her virtual classroom during the COVID pandemic.

“I came from the STEM industry and I didn’t have anyone to guide me through the ropes and to really emphasize that my background would be very valuable within the classroom setting,” explains Romero, Algebra I teacher at Bright Star Stella Charter High School in Los Angeles. “I believe in what we do and I’m happy to be a part of it.”

The EnCorps STEM Teachers Program is designed for STEM professionals interested in exploring STEM teaching in an under-resourced community. 

In addition to the volunteer guest teaching, EnCorps Fellows are provided with online professional development that reflect best practices and support the development of skills essential to teaching, including: creating classroom culture and building student relationships; building a stronger understanding of pedagogical content; and creating a classroom that fosters equity and social justice. Last but not least, EnCorps Fellows join a community of like-minded STEM professionals.

What’s next for Chuang? He will now work with his dedicated EnCorps Program Coordinator to chart a path to teaching, including choosing a credentialing program that meets his needs.

In addition to EnCorps’ support, Chuang is launching his new STEM teaching career buoyed by the encouragement and wisdom of one of his Take-Over Day students: “I want Mr. Chuang to know that he is doing his job very well, that he never gives up, that he fights for his dreams, and that he is an example for me in my studies.”