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Area teachers learn new careers to enhance education

Judy Iskandar, right, shows Nathalia Hardy, left, and Cassandra Weathersbee, middle, how some of Inova Hospital’s X-ray technology works. —Times-Mirror Courtesy Photo
While students are spending their summer vacation relaxing, a handful of Loudoun County teachers are working with local businesses to discover new ways to enhance education.

The participants were part of the Teachers in Industry Project, sponsored by George Washington University. Created in 2009, the program is a three-week externship that places teachers in different industries to see real-world applications in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers.
This year, around 20 area teachers and 12 Loudoun businesses participated.

The program is open to sixth through 12th grade teachers. Participants apply to the program and, once accepted, are placed in interdisciplinary groups of three to five. The teachers will participate in two four-day externships and one group industry experience.

Nathalia Hardy, an English teacher from Freedom High School, participated in the program last year and joined again this year as a lead teacher.

“I feel so powerful about this program and what it has the power to do,” Hardy said.

Hardy's group was composed of Jason Fournier, a math teacher from Douglass School; Andrea Relator, a social studies teacher from Dominion High School; Deborah Haas, a family and consumer sciences teacher from Heritage High School; and Cassandra Weathersbee, a physical sciences teacher from Louise A. Benton Middle School in Manassas.

The crew spent one day at Neustar, a telecommunications company in Sterling, for the industry experience. The following day, they began their first externship at Inova Loudoun Hospital in Lansdowne.

After a quick briefing, the teachers were given a tour of the facility, including the pediatric emergency room, the adult emergency room and the surgical center. The most extensive tour was given of the diagnostic imaging facility.

There, the teachers were guided by clinical radiology specialist Judy Iskandar, whose nearly 40-year career had spanned multiple continents, including Africa and Asia. Iskandar showed them new X-ray technologies, CT scans, MRIs and nuclear medicine. But for the teachers, the most important thing she demonstrated was a lifetime of enjoying a STEM career.

“I love my job,” gushed Iskandar. “I get to meet new people and help them every day.”

For the teachers, Iskandar was a reassurance and something to tell kids to motivate them when they return to the classroom.

“Everybody is personable and seems to love their job,” Fournier. “And the jobs are attainable.”

Weathersbee agreed.

“It's great to see everyone so happy and excited about their jobs,” she said. “That's something great to bring back.”

The industries of the participating businesses, while all STEM-related, varied widely. Other participating companies include Loudoun Farms, Telos, Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority and Rehau Solutions.

But regardless of the industry, teachers say the benefits of the program are universal, from contacts with people who can come to the classroom to getting kids engaged in STEM learning.

“There's a shortage in the STEM field. In order to adequately get people, we need to do a better job preparing students, and not just in STEM only subjects,” Hardy said. “I love how this program connects this real world experience with my classroom.”


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