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How CAST Schools are preparing young women for careers in STEM

By Joshua Collins, Communications Coordinator, CAST Schools

Over the summer, Ashley Mendez, a high school student at CAST STEM, traveled to Rice University to participate in the Carbon Dioxide (CO2) STEM CAMP hosted by ExxonMobil. Along with her classmates and math teacher Melisa Walters, the team learned about the impacts of carbon dioxide. The student team then designed a carbon capture storage unit to capture and replace the brine with the supercritical carbon dioxide fluid. After the event, the CAST STEM team brought home two trophies and one medal in engineering. Ashley spoke fondly of the experience:

Inclusivity was very present from the moment I heard the head of ExxonMobil invite me as a young woman in STEM to be a part of this camp to realizing these STEM opportunities have given me an advantage in the future. It expanded my knowledge of the real world and possible STEM career fields. I am so grateful my high school teacher Melisa Walters encouraged me to participate!”

Ms. Walters believes that women are underrepresented in STEM fields, and experiences such as this camp showcase how young women can significantly impact STEM Fields:

STEM is our future. CAST gives students a strong foundation in science, technology, engineering, and math. This foundation in STEM offers more opportunities for all our women students.

As a network of tuition-free, five career-themed high schools and one Pre-K to 12 Academy, CAST is dedicated to closing the gap on income inequality and nurturing San Antonio’s homegrown talent. Co-created as a regional partnership between independent school districts, higher education institutions, and local employers, CAST offers a new model of teaching and learning.

Within CAST Schools, 44% of enrolled students are women. At CAST Med, the only medically focused, dual-language high school in south San Antonio, that number is 66%. CAST Schools’ four pillars of Student Voice, Authentic Learning, Relationships, and Equity help prepare these students for the future. For Colleen Quirk, an English teacher at CAST Med, she is able to see the power of student voice firsthand:

The students and I talk a great deal about their experiences at CAST Med. As a staff, we agree that the students should have the leading voice in what they want out of their learning experiences. If a student expresses an interest in veterinary medicine, we work to find an experience with a veterinary practice to support that interest.

CAST schools currently serve over 2,000 students across the four independent school districts our campuses are located in. Since its inception in 2017, CAST Schools has impacted the lives of over 170,000 students with a curriculum model that combines rigorous academics with hands-on, project-based learning that is always seeking to incubate new approaches to teaching and learning and which allows students to succeed at emerging and high-paying careers.

To Ms. Quirk, CAST Med more than prepares its students for careers in healthcare:

The most important aspect of our CAST Med campus is the authentic opportunities students have to shadow and work with medical professionals in actual working situations with actual patients. We had a rising sophomore who interned with one of the top surgeons in San Antonio and was able to “scrub in” on an open heart surgery. When students get to experience healthcare solving actual issues, they become motivated to persevere through the rigor of the studies required to prepare for a career in healthcare.

Industry partners are a core part of CAST’s community. They are invited experts in their fields, and frequently join CAST for community outreach. As CAST continues to grow, so too will its number of partners.

Ms. Quirk recognizes that this is only the start, especially for young women:

I would encourage young women to ask lots of questions and challenge the status quo … that is at the heart of a STEM career and what makes it exciting. Young women can be change makers, and CAST provides opportunities to put change-making into action now, not in some far-off future!

Ms. Walters agrees:

Women are underrepresented and they can make a greater impact in STEM fields. STEM is our future. CAST gives each student a strong science, technology, engineering, and math component/foundation. This alone offers much more opportunity for all our women students.

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