EnCorps spoke with Dave Hewitt, a Sacramento EnCorps STEM Teaching Fellow who will be teaching physics and math in 2020 at Union Mines High School. Dave is a former design engineer who was a member of the Atlas Solid Rocket Booster development team at Aerojet. Over a long career with Aerojet, Dave was able to work on a number of military and commercial satellite programs, working his way up from project engineering into program management. He shared his enthusiasm for “rocket science” and his hope to use his experiences to help his students explore career options they can’t even imagine.
For many years, Dave had the dream of becoming a high school math and science teacher. He thought this would happen eventually; after he retired from aerospace, STEM teaching would be his second career. When Aerojet closed its Sacramento location in May 2018, Dave decided to decline a relocation offer when he learned about the EnCorps STEM Teachers Program at an Aerojet/EnCorps Lunch and Learn. He decided to make the move to teaching – much earlier than he had planned.
“I knew my long-term goal but not the path. Flexibility is key to transition.”
Dave knew he wanted to become a STEM teacher, but found he was confused about the pathway from aerospace to the classroom. He learned that there were multiple ways to get into the classroom and he needed to be flexible and adapt his path to fit his life. Dave determined a credential program which included online education and a student teaching option appealed to him.
He was introduced to EnCorps through a work colleague at Aerojet who mentioned EnCorps when they were discussing “next steps.” Dave thought this might be a program that could help him with his transition to the classroom. After that conversation, Dave applied to EnCorps later in the week. The following week, he was contacted by EnCorps to follow up on his interest. For Dave, the best feature of EnCorps is placing Fellows in an actual school for observations. This helped him personally to validate that he belonged in the classroom.
Through EnCorps, Dave worked with a master teacher who taught him the importance of empathy, engagement, and caring. Since COVID 19, he has been supporting this math teacher through online learning sessions. Dave has missed the classroom and the day-to-day interaction with his students. He shared with EnCorps one recent student experience that particularly impacted him. Before moving into a virtual classroom, he was working closely with an Algebra 2 student who was struggling and who challenged his ability to teach. Earlier in the semester she told Dave, “Mr. Hewitt, I can’t learn from you” and mentioned transferring out of the class. Dave knew that Algebra 2 was difficult for this student and she needed to push through the difficulty; he was committed to helping her be successful. He told her that transferring out of the class was not the best option, “It doesn’t help you to learn or me to teach by dropping out.”
In his follow-up with students who had not completed online-learning assignments after the move to a virtual classroom, Dave spoke with this student’s mother. She told Dave, “I have no idea where she is”. For Dave, this reinforced his commitment to helping this student and others at Union Mines High School. He realized that he has no idea what his high school students are experiencing, and some are working to overcome obstacles bigger than COVID 19. When he received his class roster for the coming school year, Dave was happy to see this student’s name on the roster. He gets another opportunity to help her get on track.