IDRA Classnotes Podcast 241 graphic

Ambassador Educators on Promoting STEM Equity – Classnotes Podcast #241 | Classnotes Podcast 241

IDRA Classnotes Podcast 241 graphicClassnotes Podcast (April 3, 2024). Striking inequities in STEM pathways lead to underrepresentation of women and people of color in STEM careers. Many initiatives across the country are looking for ways to turn the tide.

STEM equity must be infused into classrooms across the K-12 pipeline.

IDRA recently named eight teachers in San Antonio as STEM Equity Ambassadors for the 2023-24 school year to support teacher leaders to do just that.

In this episode, IDRA’s Lizdelia Piñón and Michelle Martínez Vega talk with two educators about their experiences as IDRA’s STEM Equity Ambassadors and what they have learned about promoting equity through culturally relevant STEM pedagogy.

Angela Votion, M.S., is a STEM consultant with the Texas Education Service Center, Region 20. With over 10 years of experience in education, her expertise includes curriculum development, instructional design, and professional development facilitation. She holds a master of science in reading from Texas A&M San Antonio.

Alma Ramos, M.A., M.Ed., is a pre-kindergarten through eighth grade instructional coach and fifth grade science teacher. Originally from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, she first became an educator when graduating from Texas A&M University in 2012. Alma holds a master’s degrees in bilingual education and educational leadership.

IDRA Education Associate Lizdelia Piñón, Ed.D., and IDRA Chief Technology Strategist Michelle Martínez Vega help coordinate IDRA’s ambassador program.

The Alamo STEM Ecosystem, co-led by IDRA, is partnering with the other three Defense STEM Education Consortium (DSEC) partners across the country to support over 30 STEM Equity Ambassadors using interactive and experiential teaching methods to support them as they develop a robust STEM action plan for their own school and school district.

Show length: 16:30


STEM Equity Ambassadors

Theatre of the Oppressed

IDRA STEM Equity – Online Technical Assistance Toolkit

Defense STEM Education Consortium

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Show Notes

  • MICHELLE: Hello, and welcome to IDRA’s Classnotes Podcast. Today, we’re going to talk to our STEM equity ambassadors, Alma Ramos, M.A., M.Ed., and Angela Votion, M.S. To give you a little background about the program: This year, IDRA is leading a cohort of eight educators based in San Antonio. These educators are on a STEM equity journey as part of a new partnership funded by the Defense STEM Education Consortium (DSEC). The 2023-24 program, cultivating STEM Equity Ambassadors to address the barriers to equity in STEM education, using virtual and in-person sessions to identify ways individual STEM educators can impact persistent underrepresentation in areas such as race and gender in STEM fields.

    IDRA’s educator cohort is part of a national group of 32 teachers who participate in monthly virtual learning opportunities plus two in-person STEM boot camp sessions. The year-long program uses interactive, experiential, critical arts-based, and culturally relevant frameworks to engage teachers in defining and operationalizing equity in all aspects of their STEM work. Across the curriculum, educators participating will deeply explore topics that promote equity through culturally relevant STEM pedagogy.

    Specific learnings include: equity audits, curriculum design, and planning, programs that engage students, teachers, family, and community. In addition to the content knowledge, participants will engage with a passionate peer community focused on equity in STEM education and develop an equity action plan of their own. Upon completion, participants will earn a DOD STEM micro-credential in STEM equity. To begin our conversation, I’ll pass it on to Liz, and we’ll start talking.

  • LIZ: Hi, Alma and Angela, I’m so happy you were able to join us today. A quick question. Can you share just a little bit about your background as an educator?

  • ANGELA: My name is Angela Votion and I’m working as a consultant with STEM and gifted education at the Education Service Center, Region 20 here in San Antonio. I am a former educator in the classroom. And I’ve been in education now for 10 and a half years now. I definitely want to get credit for that half a year.
    I’ve been in education for a while now, and definitely currently my role is to serve other educators – making sure that they have the resources, tools, coaching that helps with implementation.

  • ALMA: Hi, everyone. This is Alma Ramos. A little bit about my background in education: It all started like some 15 or 20 years ago before coming into the regular or generic educational system. I used to teach different things, such as financial literacy education and parenting classes, through different other organizations until I made the change to continue teaching the younger minds. For the last 10 years, I have been teaching science and I’ve been serving different hats.

    I have the hat of instructional coach, instructional specialist, assistant principal, and many different things. I used to manage about 13 campuses and ensure the implementation of STEM was aligned to the curriculum and provided instructional coaching cycles. I have been able to embed myself into many different aspects of education. As an educator, I have a very clear perception of every different type of job. Now that when someone is talking to me, I fully understand what they are standing or the decision-making due to the different experiences that I have had as an educator myself.

  • LIZ: Thank you. I am so grateful to have met both of you with your vast array of knowledge that you bring to this program. My first question is, what prompted you to sign up for IDRA’s STEM Equity Ambassador program in the late summer, early fall?

  • ALMA: I can go first. This is Alma. One of the things that I know in my childhood: I always wanted to learn more, the need to learn more, the need to be fully aware of everything that’s possible with my short number of years that I have as a human being. Having said that, a lot of people throughout my career have embraced the fact of always sharpening that song, always giving me opportunities to learn. That’s the main idea of how I engage myself with this program.

    Also, I do believe that there was a need for me to more fully understand what STEM education looked like from different lenses. And this opportunity has allowed me to do that. I wanted to know, is it just me that I’m able to see that? Or is it several people like me that are able to see that there’s a need that needs to be addressed in the opportunities we are providing to our students of those oppressed realities that we have. That’s why I decided to join. It’s just been a great experience for me.

  • ANGELA: For myself, I think what really grabbed my attention was seeing the title: STEM Equity Ambassadors. Even that word ambassadors to me, it was very catchy. And for me, it kind of started getting me thinking about the possibility could be with this program, right? Hearing that and also being a big proponent myself and believer in equity within this big system of education, for me, that was something that was really important. Finding a way to then lock that in with this umbrella of STEM education, I thought was really important because I started to really think about and look at the fact that there are a lot of students who possibly even look like me walking the halls and in schools that didn’t even know of the possibilities of STEM. Finding a way to bring more awareness to get students of color into these programs, I felt was really important. For me, that title caught me right away and just it pulled me in. So that was why I decided to be part of the program.

  • LIZ: Thank you. And these are just two of the amazing eight educators that were part of our cohort from September until the summer. What about this program do you feel has been most impactful for you as an educator?

  • ANGELA: I love the versatility of being able to come together as a community of educators. Our roles are all different. I mean, not all of us are in the classroom. I love that aspect as well within this community. But I also think that the most impactful thing thus far has been kind of looking at what these five faces of oppression are. So just looking at those, having a name to each of those, being able to kind of signify and be able to understand what they are and how possibly those have been barriers and how we can call out those barriers so that the future, the students that are coming up don’t have those same barriers if at all possible, like being able to move them out of the way slowly but surely for our students so they have access to these great programs.

  • ALMA: Similar to what Angela mentioned, just really grasping an understanding of what oppression looked like. I knew it existed, but I didn’t have a name for it, right? Understanding exploitation, marginalization, cultural imperialism, powerlessness, violence, I never had a chance to really think of that before. I knew it existed, but I didn’t know what to call it. All these experiences that we have had in ambassador boot camp with the Theater of the Oppressed, it allowed me to really fully understand what it looks like from all those different five oppressions that exist.

    I can actually fully talk about it now because I never thought of it. I knew I experienced marginalization as a Hispanic, low-income individual. I have never experienced exploitation in the form that we describe it. Powerlessness, it’s every day of my life. I’ve been able to experience that, but I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know that was a form of oppression. Cultural imperialism, I did not know that was also what it was called. I didn’t know that a group’s culture was above everyone else’s ability to form their own culture. And then violence, I knew that existed in my experiences, but I didn’t know that was a form of oppression. I thought that was just a choice, a bad choice, whatever we want to call it. But that was my understanding of that.

  • ANGELA: And exactly like how Alma’s doing right now, right? Adding to the conversation and bringing these points together. I think that’s another great thing that we’ve been able to do when we all got together and met in the same room and had a whole full day of learning. We have got to hear each other, and we got to see someone else’s perspective, point of view, hear their background stories of how they’ve gone through some of these same things.

    I think quite often we work in silos in these, our classrooms alone. And then we feel alone quite often in our work because we’re getting our hands dirty, right? Definitely I think being together and having the opportunity to build this community, to have collaboration, to have these discussions and open dialogue about these things that are hard to talk about quite often, but being able to do so, I think it’s been brave of all of us, and it’s been really great to see.

  • LIZ: It has been so exciting, not only to meet with you all virtually every month, but these two STEM camps, the one in January and the one we are going to have in April, are such a big part of this program. What changes have you been able to incorporate into your teaching as a result of IDRA’s STEM equity ambassador program?

  • ALMA: I think as far as how has this trickled down to my teaching methods, right? I have always been the same. It hasn’t changed as much because I’ve always been a firm believer that experiences should be accessible to everybody. It shouldn’t be accessible by 504 special needs. It should not be accessible to emergent bilinguals only. It should be accessible to every single member of that learning community. When we start doing this, singling students out, then we are providing that example that we’re trying to move away from, right? Controlling who gets to learn what and how to learn it or how to engage it.

    As a teacher, it has just affirmed my beliefs. It has strengthened my beliefs, but I’ve always been doing the same. I’ve always been that kind of STEM educator that all the experiences provided to my students. I do not single students out. It is everyone. Everyone is required to express themselves within the same activities.
    I do not say these are for those kiddos. This is the extension for the gifted and talented students, or this is the language accommodations for the emergent bilinguals. No, these are language accommodations for the whole classroom, because we all need it. Sometimes we didn’t have a good breakfast. We might not be able to come up with the sentence. So as an educator, it’s just reaffirming that what I’m doing is what needs to happen at every classroom.

  • ANGELA: Those are some great points to bring out, right? And especially when we talk about tying it back to equity. That’s a perfect example of just having that mindset as an educator that we’re serving the needs of all of our students, no matter what labels may have been placed on them in the course of their educational journey. I totally agree with you, Alma.

    Another thing that, personally, I’ve been able to do in my own work is I have begun offering one and a half hour courses for educators within our region. And those courses have been titled Growing Girls in STEM. I specifically made them so that we could talk about these inequities, so that we could make sure that teachers had the opportunity to hear how could they service and best meet the needs of girls and get them interested, taking away some of those pre-constructed and preconceived ideas of what a girl should do, what they should be saying, these social constructs that we think are archaic, but is built in into bias quite often for a lot of our teachers who are still in the classroom. Being able to have those conversations openly with teachers, I had one of those sessions fill up and had 50 participants and the other one had about 35. It was after school.

    It was definitely a time that our educators came, and they were tired, of course, but it was eye-opening to hear those conversations. At the end, the feedback of just how grateful they were to have the opportunity to see some of the ideas, to talk about some of these things with their colleagues, with other teachers in other districts, I think was very powerful. And it was really exciting to see. And it was something that made me kind of feel like this is something that I’ve got to keep doing, right? If people are showing up for it, I need to keep doing it. And so it reaffirmed that for me.

  • LIZ: Thank you. Those are such great products coming from the STEM equity ambassador program. Alma and Angela, I’m so grateful that you are able to join us today for this discussion. You all are amazing. These amazing teachers are going that extra mile to provide culturally relevant STEM education and with a focus on equity in their classrooms and in their communities. Thank you. I appreciate it.