Taking STEM careers out for a spin


Emma Odenweller is ready to be a scientist. Kevin Castillo wants to use his talent for teaching science to inspire youngsters. Ariana Bueno has her sights set on space exploration. Their sparks for STEM were ignited by various experiences made possible by FIU.

Sarasota-native Odenweller is a marine sciences major finishing up her junior year. She wants to make an impact on the environment and has gotten a great taste of what it will take to rise in her field. She participated in a career exploration program that had her outside studying environmental issues that impact aquatic ecosystems in South Florida while also learning to write research papers and communicate complex information to the general public. Experiential learning at its best.

“I feel I am now ready to take on the world as a scientist,” Odenweller said. “I have a pretty good idea about what a job as a researcher entails, and I am confident in my abilities to do well as a scientist.”

Ariana Bueno

Ariana Bueno is double majoring in mechanical engineering and physics. The first major was always part of her plan. The second was an unexpected turn of events after her own experiential learning.

Utilizing her engineering skills, Bueno successfully landed and completed two internships, one as a systems engineer for Lockheed Martin and a second as a structural analyst for Boeing. After taking a physics class, she found another area in which she excelled. Her knack for making the subject relatable to others led Professor Geoffrey Potvin to encourage her to become a learning assistant—a student who helps peers learning by guiding discussions and helping them connect with course content. It’s another form of experiential learning. She facilitates active learning for more than 70 students in two physics courses.

“The most rewarding experience has been helping those who don’t think they are good enough or smart enough to learn physics,” Bueno said. “Everyone is smart enough. Everyone is good enough. Concepts are easy to grasp if they are taught the right way.”

Bueno hopes to become a NASA engineer.

Kevin Castillo was working toward a degree in earth science when he found out that he could earn a teaching certificate at the same time. With a growing need for teachers of STEM at the K-12 levels, the university has established a way for science majors to turn their passions into a classroom career. It’s called FIUteach, and the program puts FIU students directly in the middle of the classroom to get their feet wet. They develop lessons and materials and begin by offering project-based instruction to elementary students before moving into middle and high schools, where they focus specifically on math and science curricula. With guidance and mentorship from FIU faculty that have spent years themselves teaching in public schools, the undergraduates quickly amass the skills they need to help prepare the next generation of budding scientists, mathematicians and engineers.

Castillo’s journey included stints at a K-8 as well as at four different high schools, where he taught physical science, chemistry, physics and biology. His plan for after graduation: to become a STEM teacher in a high-needs, low- income school, where he hopes to put his his specialized FIUteach training to work.

“All of my lessons are student centered, meaning the aim is for students to acquire knowledge on their own with the teacher acting as a facilitator,” Castillo says. “Beyond being an affective teaching method, it also gives students a sense of ownership over their learning.”