Summer Spotlight: Teacher Internship at Raytheon Missile Systems

As part of the Summer Workation Celebrating Summer Contest, we will be featuring a number of Summer Spotlights. These Summer Spotlights will feature some of the exciting things teachers have done and can do during the summer months. We hope that these posts can help teachers learn about some of the summer jobs and opportunities available to them. This spotlight features Cassi LaFaye. Cassi participated in an internship with Raytheon Missile Systems sponsored by a collaboration between the University of Arizona, the UA’s Southern Arizona Science & Math Internship Center and the nonprofit Tucson Values Teachers organization.

Lab

Cassi LaFaye, Marana High School science teacher

This past summer I worked as a teacher intern at Raytheon Missile Systems as part of the internship program headed by the Southern Arizona Science and Math Internship Center at the University of Arizona’s College of Education. At the conclusion of my 3-year commitment, I will earn a Master of Arts in Teaching and Teacher Education with a focus on science education. My goals: become the kind of teacher that inspires kids to learn more outside of my classroom and steer kids into science and engineering careers.

At the beginning of the summer, I questioned what my contribution would be to Raytheon. My bachelor’s degree is in physical science, so I had a chemistry and physics background, but had never taken engineering courses. I went into the internship as a researcher, studying the scientists and engineers I met.

Of special interest to me were the differences between how science is done in the workplace and how science is done in the classroom. And, with the help of the curriculum course I took over the summer, I was able to make important changes in the lessons I was teaching so that they more reflected workplace science.

For example: in a typical classroom, the teacher provides lots of explanations before an experience. Students receive four days of lecture, worksheets, readings, videos, etc. (explanations) followed by one lab (experience). In the workplace, engineers have many experiences that lead them to an explanation.

Of course the classroom has limitations. With only a 55- minute day and limited resources, students do not receive the same experiences as workplace-scientists. However, the teacher can foster scientific thinking by allowing and encouraging kids to solve problems in their own creative way. This might mean that the students devise their own lab procedures, or that I accept more than one right answer to a problem, or that students lead the direction of the next experience by their questioning.

My first assignment at Raytheon was with a team of engineers that run the computer simulations for the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle. I was not able to go into their lab because it contained classified information, but I was able to sit in on their meetings and listen to the thought process of these problem solvers. This diverse group of engineers each had specific expertise that made their contribution to the team valuable.

I realized that my students also learn more when they feel they are a valuable contributing partner in the lab experiences. Sometimes, that means giving different students information that the others do not have so that the success of the whole lab is dependent on collaboration among the entire group.

My second assignment at Raytheon was in the chemical analysis lab. Here I felt a little more in my element. I was able to see equipment first-hand that I have only talked about during discussions of atomic structure like the Scanning Electron Microscope. I got to identify substances based on their physical and chemical properties by using equipment that can heat or cool samples to extreme temperatures, equipment that uses infrared light, and other equipment that measures viscosity.

But more importantly, as a teacher, I gained insight as to how a high school science teacher impacts students. I heard stories from some of the chemists that loved science in high school and they described what they like about it. “I remember this one lab where . . .” or “My teacher told me . . .” Other chemists talked about how they hated chemistry in high school and the only reason they were in their current job was because of mentors in the military. Obviously, teachers’ words can cause kids to not like science, or school in general.

This school year began with sharing my internship experiences with my students. My experiences at Raytheon gave me a little credibility and “cool-ness” at the beginning, but kids are smart and it doesn’t go far if my classroom is boring. If I am not making the changes in the classroom, and not providing the experiences for them, they are not benefiting from my internship experiences.

This internship experience supports Marana High School’s goals of increasing rigor and relevance in the classroom. People have asked me if I would like to eventually work at Raytheon. My answer, “No, I am a teacher.” I love Marana High School and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. My daughter graduated in “08 as part of the Fine and Performing Arts academy. My sons will graduate in ’10, ’12, ’14, ’16. My senior is in the Business and Human Services academy, my sophomore is in the MedStart academy. I am pretty sure my 8th grader will choose Science and Tech academy because he is my little creative scientist. My 6th grader? Too soon to tell, but whatever he chooses, I know his MHS teachers will support his interests. And my internship experiences last summer and these next two summers will improve how I direct learning in the Science and Technology academy.

I don’t build missiles, but Raytheon is helping me build creative, problem solving minds.

Leave a comment by February 27, 2010 to enter the Celebrating Summer Contest!

  • What do you think about this Summer Spotlight?
  • Have you participated in a similar experience?
  • What would your ideal summer growth opportunity be (e.g., volunteer work, study/travel abroad, internship/externship, fellowship)?

3 Responses to “Summer Spotlight: Teacher Internship at Raytheon Missile Systems”

  1. Jessica Y. says:

    Wow, what a read! Fantastic Summer Spotlight and many thanks to Cassi for sharing it with Summer Workation. It’s great to read how much impact a teacher can have on students, such as collaborating and working with them. I have not participated in a similar experience, but hearing about Cassi’s internship shows me how much a teacher can learn during those two months in the summer. My ideal summer growth opportunity is volunteer work because there’s so many different organizations here in my community that need volunteers and I would love to contribute my time to help them.

  2. mbcollins says:

    I have always thought it would be great for teachers to work at companies over the summer. It is often tough to find there opportunities so kudos to Raytheon for providing this opportunity. This spotlights shows how valuable it can be for teachers to spend time in this business environment. I found this spotlight extremely interesting and hope there are more opportunities like this for teachers in the future.

  3. Karla Duff says:

    Being an educator and not a business professional, I always wonder if there is more that I can do to get my students ready for the “real world.” Participating in a summer program like this would help me focus my teaching to match some of my students’ goals. A possibility I hadn’t really considered until now.

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