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Bechtel’s Impact Report

Enhancing student learning to match workplace expectations – a conversation with Paige Irwin

  • By
    portrait of Ashley Merriman
    Ashley Merriman, Communications Manager
    portrait of Paige Irwin
    Paige Irwin, High School Math Teacher at Wakefield High School
  • 22 July 2021
     6 Min Read

Paige Irwin, a high school math teacher from Arlington, VA, joined Bechtel this summer as part of a workforce development teacher fellowship supported by the Arlington Community Foundation.

Ashley Merriman, Communications Manager of EPC Functions at Bechtel, sat down with Paige to discuss:

  • The STEM Workforce Development Teacher Fellowship grant.
  • Why she chose Bechtel for her fellowship and her experience with us this summer.
  • Her key takeaways and what she plans to take back to her classroom.
  • Ways to contribute to furthering STEM education.

Listen to the podcast. 

Podcast transcript

Interviewee: Paige Irwin (PI)
Interviewer: Ashley Merriman (AM)

AM: Welcome and thank you for tuning into our latest podcast. My name is Ashley Merriman and today I am joined by Paige Irwin, a high school math teacher from Arlington, VA. Paige joined Bechtel this summer as part of a workforce development teacher fellowship supported by the Arlington Community Foundation. Thanks so much for joining me today Paige. I'm looking forward to our discussion.

PI: Thanks for having me. This is my first podcast experience.

AM: Awesome! Paige, can you tell me a little bit more about yourself?

PI: Yes, so I'm a high school math teacher. I teach at Wakefield High School in Arlington and about a year ago I won a grant from the Arlington Community Foundation to spend some time with the STEM workforce in order to bridge the gap from the STEM classroom to the STEM workforce.

AM: That's great, can you tell me a little bit more about the grant? How did you learn about it and why did you apply?

PI: So, the Arlington Community Foundation provides this grant, and other grants, in order to improve the quality of life in specifically Arlington, VA. The name of the grant is the STEM Workforce Development Teacher Fellowship and it allows teachers to be paid for three weeks of work for any work within the STEM industry to learn about the workplace needs, and then the goal is to come back to the classroom and improve student learning through having an understanding of those workplace expectations. So I wrote a letter of intent and had some letters of recommendation submitted and so I was awarded at the end of March, early April of last year. So, then we delayed it to this year.

AM: Congratulations on receiving the grant, but why did you choose Bechtel as your internship location?

PI: I am actually part of a Bechtel family. I've always been around Bechtel, my Grandfather, uncle, mother, and two brothers have worked for or do currently work for Bechtel. I grew up moving around to different projects around the country, so I've always seen second hand the Bechtel values of family, growth, flexibility. I was really interested in the opportunity to witness first hand the Bechtel way and how an engineering and construction company runs so that I could take that back to the classroom and implement those things in my classroom.

AM: What was your goal in participating in the fellowship and what did you hope to learn from your time at Bechtel?

PI: I started out hoping to find some great real world problems that I could give to my students from algebra to calculus so that they could really answer the question – when will I use this in real life?

AM: You've spent the last three weeks with various groups across Bechtel. Who did you meet with and what did you observe?

PI: I shadowed and sat in on meetings with Bechtel's innovation team, the Big Data team, corporate engineering, the Digital Enterprise Program, the Natrium project engineering team, and the engineering fellows. Then I also talked individually with diversity and inclusion, learning and development, communications, project controls, and some summer interns. I loved talking to so many different groups and I've made a connection to STEM education in every conversation that I had.

AM: Paige, I have to ask since you’re a math teacher, were you able to witness any real-world mathematical problem solving during your time with us?

PI: Yes, I loved seeing how the things I teach in my classroom are really used in real life. I recognize that project management is all about optimization, making a decision that takes into account all the constraints like safety, quality, cost and scheduling. I recognize that mathematical modeling is the precursor to 3D modeling and eventually digital twins. I ask my class to interpret a graph and they usually find that very difficult, but that's exactly what a digital twin does, and I saw that it's a very valuable skill in the workforce. I also notice that each team makes comparisons and pays close attention to details, which are two skills that I strive to emphasize in my classroom as part of problem solving skills.

AM: Overall, did your time with us, Paige, meet your expectations and goals?

PI: Yes, it actually far exceeded my expectations. I ended up observing a long list of personal skills, problem solving skills, and overarching mathematical concepts that I will be able to share with my students within context.

AM: What are a couple of your key takeaways from your time with Bechtel?

PI: Some things that I heard over and over were communication and technical skills are both imperative for success. The problem solving skills that I emphasize with my students really are the most important things that they need to take with them over the actual algorithms. Flexibility, adaptability and willingness to learn are skills that start a student off on the right track and, especially, data is the future.

AM: As a result of your experience, do you anticipate any changes in how you teach?

PI: Yes, I want to implement quite a few things. Some are now I have a lot more examples of how the skills that I teach are used in the workplace. I also have a lot of stories from Bechtel employees from all different backgrounds and how they got to the successful places that they are. I will plan for more opportunities to expose students to a variety of career paths. And, I will include opportunities for students to explore and understand data and get interested in careers that include data.

AM: That's fantastic. How can our employees contribute to furthering STEM education?

PI: First of all, share your talents. Reach out to teachers or students you know and ask if you can Share your story and your knowledge. In addition to STEM and robotics clubs look for opportunities to influence students who have not yet discovered the power of STEM. So those that don't know how great STEM can be in their lives and the many opportunities. And then talk about all the amazing projects that Bechtel is working on so that people around you know about it and can help the younger generation to get excited about it. Also, I would suggest staying connected to your individual universities and STEM organizations and national engineering organizations so that you can hear of opportunities to contribute to the younger generation.

AM: Paige, thank you so much for joining me today and for choosing to spend the last several weeks at Bechtel. We've loved having you spend part of your summer with us.

PI: This was such a great opportunity. Thank you to Bechtel for having me and teaching me so much.

AM: To our listeners, please be sure to subscribe to Our Insights to be alerted when new blogs and podcasts are posted. Thanks Paige.

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