Courtesy of Sarah Kane

A group of tenth and eleventh graders from Hill Regional Career High School brought their biology and chemistry knowledge from the classroom to the laboratory on a field trip this week. 

Huân M. Ngô, who conducted his post-doctoral training in cellular and molecular parasitology at the Yale School of Medicine, helped lead the field trip as part of a new “classroom to the workforce” curriculum model for science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine, or STEMM courses at Career High School. After observing both the professional and educational sides of developmental science, Ngô wants to help New Haven youth launch into local careers in bioscience. 

According to Ngô, most nationally-accepted science curriculums in public high schools operate on a curiosity-based approach where instructors engage their students through enthusiasm and wonder. But Ngô explained to the News that this approach becomes a prevalent structural setback. Rather than attempting to excite students about topics they have no inherent interest in, Ngô believes that staff and administrators must transition to a more practical approach that explains the relevance of scientific information. 

“STEMM studies are beneficial when attempting to establish a career, and genuine connection the material is often not encountered with ‘Bill Nye science education,’ or classes designed to stimulate mere excitement,” Ngô told the News. “Instead, we should shift to STEMM workforce development and modernize bioscience education so our kids are a little closer to the growing workforce of their city.” 

These sentiments originated from Ngô’s previous teaching experience as a middle school science teacher at New Haven’s Sheridan Middle School. At Sheridan, he noticed his “middle school academic stars” losing interest in their passions for science by the time they reached graduation. Ngô came to grapple with a single question: why?

After much contemplation, he concluded that pursuing a career in STEMM requires learning a “whole new world,” which is seldom required in other professions. Any job within the bioscience industry necessitates a different way of thinking and a new vocabulary. These barriers, he said, made many students apprehensive about pursuing science. 

“Their passions and curiosities alone were not enough to motivate these students into a STEMM-oriented path,” said Ngô. “I now have to explain to them the opportunities that fundamental biology could bring to them, and give them a reason to go through all of that trouble.”

With approximately six percent of New Haven’s workforce employed in the bioscience industry, Ngô noted that graduating students could fulfill a larger percentage of these positions in the city. He wants to encourage New Haven residents to fill these positions as opposed to pharmaceutical companies and hospitals outsourcing their jobs to non-residents. 

If students are able to form a comprehensive STEMM foundation in high school, they will be better able to access the opportunities that surround them in New Haven, Ngô said. He hopes that contextualizing the necessity and applicability of science education will boost the numbers of employment opportunities for his students.

“Science is on the rise, so we need to get our students involved early to set a precedent,” he told the News. “We are engaging in targeted growth; I don’t want my students to be left behind again.”

Modernizing science education, Ngô said, could help close the gap between high school students and the bioscience workforce in New Haven, which is currently ranked 20th in the nation in terms of life sciences labor markets. 

Ngô reported that implementing the “classroom to workplace” model has already produced positive results, with students becoming more inquisitive and taking the initiative to further explore career options.

“The initiative not only enhances a students’ awareness of various career pathways available to pursue after high school (especially uncommon or unknown options), but also shows the relevance of applying the various 21st century skills in a real setting while building confidence in networking with others outside of a school building,” Sarah Kane, who teaches courses on business at Hill Regional Career High School, wrote to the News.

This development involves visiting and interacting with bioscience institutions in New Haven, allowing students to see how they might attain a career in STEMM. The tenth and eleventh grade biology, chemistry, and STEM careers classes toured Alexion Pharmaceuticals, a local corporation that lies approximately a half a mile down the street from their school, on April 17.  Alexion works to cure and eliminate rare diseases through the interdisciplinary studies of  neurology, hematology, nephrology and metabolics.

Several students told the News that they were excited to see how accessible the bioscience industry can be, with the laboratory located within walking distance of the school. They also mentioned feeling closer to the industry after speaking with Alexion employees about personal stories of success. 

“Touring the facility helped me realize that we are not just learning these details to get a grade,” Awurabena Ofori-Amo, a tenth-grade biology student, told the News. “We are actually doing it to one day find cures and help injured individuals. It’s easier to remember this when we see the reality of what we learn.” 

Five students who the News interviewed mentioned feeling more a personal investment in STEMM material after the field trip. Each student interviewed agreed that they now find more value in the “behind the scenes” work they perform in class. 

Eleventh-graders Elijah Cohen and Chance Moore both commented on receiving an increased amount of high-level, hands-on academic support at school across subjects, which they report to have created a sense of community which had previously been lacking. 

Fellow eleventh-grade student Shanagay Phillips also spoke highly of their science education thus far, stating that “approachable and thorough” teaching has allowed them to enjoy their courses. 

Additionally, tenth-grader Candyce Cox discussed institutional differences between Hill Regional Career High School and her former high school, saying that she enjoys the more in-depth explanations her current teachers provide.

“I had never been prompted to think about science so deeply before,” Cox told the News. “The classes are definitely challenging sometimes, but they explain the material better than a textbook or a video.” 

While only at the beginning of the STEMM curriculum transition, both faculty and students alike remain optimistic about future endeavors, ranging from further curricular adjustments to forthcoming career prospects. 

In total, 21 students attended the Alexion field trip with Dr. Ngô and Kane.

Brooklyn Brauner serves as a staff reporter for the City desk, covering Nonprofits and Social Services throughout New Haven, in addition to serving as the Thursday Newsletter Editor. Originally from Wisconsin, she is currently a sophomore in Grace Hopper College studying Political Science.