Muir High Students Check Out Jet Propulsion Laboratory

A partnership between John Muir High School and JPL was finalized Thursday when 35 Mustangs shadowed scientists, toured the JPL campus, and learned about preparing for college

By Justin Chapman, Altadena Patch, 4/30/2011

Dozens of John Muir High School students in the Business, Arts and Media, and Engineering and Environmental Science Academies were treated to an informative, entertaining, and educational field trip to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory all day Thursday, where they individually shadowed a JPL scientist, toured the campus, and learned about preparing for college through such methods as applying for scholarships and starting their college essays early.
The event marked the first collaboration between JMHS and JPL in more than six years (even though the two institutions are less than three miles apart), and was organized by many individuals, affinity groups, and sponsors at JPL who coordinated and planned the excursion with officials and JMHS administrators. Everyone involved considered it a big success, including the 35 students who participated, and discussion is already underway to continue the collaboration between JPL and JMHS.
"I spearheaded the idea of bringing Muir students to JPL," said Erik Berg, Program Manager of ManTech International Corporation, an engineering firm that has a subcontract with JPL. "It was an idea I had, trying to get JPL more involved with the school. I've been marketing this around JPL to different affinity groups within the Diversity and Inclusion Committee."
He said that once Becky Campos, the head of that committee's Recruiting Subcommittee, heard about the idea, she jumped at the opportunity and took ownership of it, bringing all of the affinity groups together to make this day happen. They also have partners in the Pasadena Educational Foundation, such as Judy Turner and Cyrice Griffith, who were instrumental in coordinating everything from the school district side.
"So we have these two partners, this large collaborative team that came together," said Berg. "And it just came together nicely. We were hoping to have at least 30 students and 35 participated. We also have many more interested JPL people that want to participate in this, which is very exciting."
He said that the sponsors that were there that day were asking, "Can we do this again soon? The time that we had went by so quickly." The event lasted from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
"It's getting a lot of momentum and the school really needs support and opportunities like this for work-based learning, career exploration, and occupational experience, so we're hoping that we can replicate this with a new batch of students and maybe some new sponsors and continue to do it," Berg said.
One of the three assistant principals at JMHS, Charles Park, explained the Academy program at Muir and selected three students to speak with Patch about their experience that day. They shadowed JPL scientists and learned about things that can't be taught in the classroom, as well as the benefit of taking ideas and concepts from the classroom to the real world.
"I chose three students who usually don't get interviewed and aren't always the ones to be the spokespersons for our Academy," Park said. "But I think you also have a good cross section because these are students representing three Academy programs: Arts and Media, Business and Entrepreneurship, and Engineering and Environmental Science. Our academy is now only three years old, but our advisory board has really grown, and we have some JPL employees who sit on our advisory board who helped put this together."
For the most part, according to Park, the students choose the academy program they want. They have three choices if they attend JMHS. Every student has to choose an Academy program, whether they're in business, environmental science or engineering. By default if they don't get into their first choice, they get into their second choice, and each of the three assistant principals manage one Academy program.
Students are also required to take extra courses for the Academy, complete community service and internship hours, and finish a senior project about the environment at the end of the four year program. After all that hard work, they receive a medallion stating that they graduated from their intensive specialized Academy program.
"The scientist I followed was in Project Support," said 16-year-old Francisco Ortiz, a sophomore at JMHS who is in the Engineering Academy. "She sets up business meetings for her clients. I learned how organized the whole system of JPL is, and how they work. I wouldn't have learned in the classroom how to build the things they do and how precise they have to be. There can't be any mistakes. Any mistake can cause a big effect to the project so you have to be precise."
He added that he still needs to think about what profession he wants to pursue, but he plans on looking into his options as much as possible.
Veronica Serrano, a 17-year-old senior in the Environmental Science Academy, said she learned a lot by following a JPL scientist who specializes in design.
"I learned about everything from space shadows to the fact that JPL is planning to go to Mars soon, which was amazing," said Serrano. "The scientist I followed is designing everything that's going to go up to Mars. It was incredible to see. I definitely want to pursue this as a career. That's why I was interested in the Academy at Muir, actually. I've been in the program for three years."
Jaleyah Lathal, a 16-year-old sophomore in the Business and Entrepreneurship Academy, said she followed a scientist who works in a field that is not her chosen career choice, but she learned how connected all the different professional fields are.
"I followed Bill Chapman, who's in Logistics," said Lathal. "He was involved in the process of sending out the spacecrafts. What I learned here that I couldn't learn in the classroom or the Academy is how much the science and engineering within spacecrafts has to do with the business aspect. There is a financial need to support projects: how to build spacecrafts and who represents it and that sort of stuff. The science side of it is not my chosen career choice, but it's an interest. But I'm definitely interested in the business side of it."
They all agreed the experience was quite an eye opener for them. But it was also an eye opener for scientists, organizers, and others at JPL. At the end of the event, six JMHS graduates who now work at JPL spoke to the students about how they got to work at such a fun and important place.
"There's a partnership now that's been formed between Muir High and JPL," said Berg. "And we understand that JMHS is the most diverse and the most impoverished of all the schools in PUSD. I think this school has the greatest need in the district. And it's only two and a half miles from JPL, which is another thing that opened a lot of eyes for the JPL people when I would discuss these facts. So the plan currently is that this partnership is going to continue to exist with John Muir High School."