STEM Ambassador Motivated by Appreciation for Teachers

Chrystal Watkins enjoys interacting with students, in part because she was a first-grade teacher before she went to work for Dow.

Chrystal Watkins has a pretty good sense of the challenges teachers face, and she‘s doing what she can to help.

For three years, Watkins was a first-grade teacher at a Michigan charter school. But unrelenting employment uncertainty nudged her into the private sector. Now she’s a customer service representative for Dow in Midland, and she’s a leader in the local STEM Ambassadors group.

“What drew me to be a part of the group was wanting to be an advocate for teachers,” Watkins said. “They have such limited resources, and invest so much of their own money into their classroom activities.”

Dow STEM Ambassadors support teachers by visiting classrooms to put on demonstrations that have been specially developed to engage students while introducing important STEM-based topics. Ambassadors also visit fairs, festivals, community events, meetings and other places where people can benefit from an expert’s insight into the wonders of the natural world. Dow employees are the key to the Ambassador program, bringing knowledge, training and enthusiasm to bear in getting kids excited about STEM careers. In the first few months of 2015, more than 200 employees joined the Ambassador movement, raising the total to over 800 members at seven sites around the United States. In just the first three months of the year, those Ambassadors had contacts with more than 15,000 students.

Included in that number were the students of Freeland Elementary, near Midland. Watkins arranged for Ambassadors to present their “Energy” module to more than 600 students in 22 classrooms. Part of the presentation involves students using a hand crank to power light bulbs.

“The kids light up too, because they can’t imagine that they just lit those bulbs up.” Watkins said. “Everything we do is very hands-on, which gets kids very excited and motivated to learn more about science, and possibly pursue a STEM career.”

The “Energy” presentation is one of several modules developed by the Ambassadors in conjunction with education experts, including the Smithsonian Institution. Each module is specially designed to be informative, safe and fun for kids, as well as being tied to classroom learning objectives. For each module, the development team also created a kit with instructions and all the materials needed to do a presentation.

“You don’t need a Ph.D. to do this,” Watkins said. “It’s very user friendly.”

So it’s easy for anyone to have a real impact on the lives of students, and the more Dow employees who become Ambassadors, the more students are impacted. And for Watkins, it’s an opportunity to relive the joy and satisfaction of seeing the look in students’ eyes when something they’ve learned suddenly makes sense.

“That’s why I have worked so hard to coordinate and organize the presentations with the Freeland Elementary teachers and the Dow STEM Ambassadors,” Watkins said. “I love having the opportunity to motivate student achievement, empower teachers, and raise awareness about STEM opportunities in my community.”