Alumna engineers her return to Mayfield to give students hands-on STEM experience
Just weeks into the school year, teacher Christina Lara ’14 already has Mayfield’s pioneering class of engineers busy with hands-on design projects, from building a wearable obscura, or pinhole camera, to reverse engineering PPE. Her Engineering Design & Analysis class—Mayfield’s first-ever official engineering course—offers students a year-long immersion in the engineering design process, as well as the opportunity to earn dual college credits at the University of Texas at Austin.
The latest addition to Mayfield’s expanding roster of advanced STEM courses, the class challenges students to solve the kind of real-world problems that engineers, designers and makers grapple with using advanced science, math and critical thinking skills. Ms. Lara, who earned a biomedical engineering degree from Purdue, sees tremendous value in helping young women become more curious and confident in the sciences, and helping to usher in a new generation of female STEM leaders.
Ms. Lara says the course is an incredible opportunity to introduce the girls to the mind of the engineer, from brainstorming to collaboration. And she gives her students, ranging from sophomores to seniors, valuable insight into the engineering design process. “I told them it's okay to fail. Like if your project doesn't work out, I don't really care about that,” she says. “What I do care is that you have an understanding of why we did the steps we did to get to where you're at.”
Mayfield is one of only a handful of high schools in Southern California to offer the University of Texas-developed Engineer Your World (EYW) program, which Ms. Lara describes as a college-level design course with high school-level performance expectations. Students who are up for the challenge can sign up to get additional work and support from the professors at UT Austin, who will also grade their supplemental projects with college-level expectations.
Although remote learning is going well in her class, Ms. Lara can’t wait until she can teach in person, saying, “the most exciting part with the normal curriculum is all the little gadgets and things that you get to play with.” But she’s definitely made the most of the often unexpected opportunities presented by online learning. Students recently connected with Texas-based guest speaker Kevin Ng, EYW’s Staff Engineer, who acted as a mock customer for their wearable camera product.
Ms. Lara is thrilled to be back at her alma mater, although it was an unexpected turn in her life. After graduating from Purdue, she was interviewing for industry jobs. But a few well-timed conversations with Melissa Tighe, her Mayfield math mentor, made it clear she might have the opportunity to instruct the school’s first-ever engineering course, the prospect was irresistible. Ms. Lara now works with some of her former instructors and it’s something she takes a lot of pleasure in. “The teachers at Mayfield are just so loving...they care about their students and the impact that they make is really amazing.”
Established in 1931, Mayfield Senior School in Pasadena, CA is a Catholic, independent, college preparatory school for young women grades 9-12. Noted for its rigorous academic program, which includes 21 Advanced Placement and Honors courses, Mayfield’s curriculum is underscored by a philosophy of educating the “whole child,” which also encourages commitment to and excellence in the arts, athletics, community service and spiritual growth. The nurturing environment at Mayfield Senior School allows each student to flourish in an atmosphere of personal attention.