You’re a what?
STEM education facilitator
What do you do?
As a self-employed STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education facilitator, I provide expertise in these subjects to students in kindergarten through the bachelor’s degree level. The customized courses or sessions I offer help to reinforce concepts so students have a strong foundation to build upon.
How do you customize instruction for your students?
To promote understanding, I identify what type of learner a student is. Every student processes information differently. For some students, my asking them questions rather than answering theirs works very well. For others, taking notes and then solving problems on their own works better. Still others are more visual learners and need a concept to be displayed rather than just talking about it.
Some students need extensive help, some need a boost of confidence, and the rest fall in between. I provide online self-study exercises and face-to-face sessions that are tailored to each kind of student for the subject and the grade level. Most of my work is virtual because my clients are all across the nation.
Describe how you get these concepts across to students.
I don’t always use traditional teaching strategies. For example, after talking about a particular STEM concept with middle schoolers, I may have the students create an animated video. These visuals explain the concept using pictures instead of just words and equations, and they also creatively showcase the students’ individual interpretations.
These days, hands-on demonstrations and exercises are more difficult to execute. Students are relying more on videos and web-based references—particularly with many schools and libraries closed—instead of going to traditional labs to capture their own data.
What’s your schedule?
My schedule and teaching load vary from semester to semester. I am constantly developing content for courses, teaching, or having a one-on-one or group STEM session. So I’m usually working 40 to 50 hours per week.
My schedule is generally Monday through Saturday, and sometimes Sunday, but the hours vary. For example, I may be facilitating a STEM camp that runs Monday through Friday. But webinars or synchronous tutoring for online courses may be an hour or two. I also work with organizations such as charter schools and programs such as Upward Bound.
How do you get clients?
Mainly by advertising in publications and through partnerships with organizations that have access to students who will benefit from STEM exposure. I also gain new clients from referrals and word of mouth and, occasionally, through social media.
Business has increased during the pandemic because the topics that I specialize in are often difficult for a student to excel in without a study group. Assistance in courses like physics, physical science, pre-calculus, and vector trigonometry is usually not readily available from a parent, sibling, or spouse.
Are you involved in noninstructional activities that relate to your work?
Yes. I research academic disparities, particularly in math, science, and the digital divide—where students have inadequate access to computers or the internet or both—for students of color. I’m working with policymakers regarding broadband expansion for underserved communities. And I’m completing a series of textbooks that emphasizes math as a language everyone should speak fluently.
How did you decide to become a STEM education facilitator?
For me, it started when I was 10 years old. I tutored at home, at my church, and in my neighborhood. I continued tutoring in high school. My undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degrees are in physics. As my academic career progressed, I was always the go-to person for helping others.
Learning and mastering these challenging concepts always came easily to me. When I realized the fear and anxiety others have with these subjects, I knew that this was what I was meant to do: apply my scientific skills to help others uncover their potential. I’ve had high-profile jobs in my career, but working as a STEM education facilitator is more impactful. Parents and others see the value in having independent academic reinforcement—especially, as a result of the pandemic, in the absence of traditional in-class education.
What do you dislike about your work?
I dislike the fact that there are so many students who don’t have direct access and exposure to women and people of color as scientists. Students of color need to see people who look like them in STEM roles: people like me.
What do you like best?
What’s most important to me is to bridge deficiencies and bolster scientific and mathematical fluency. I like creating digital learning content to make STEM concepts come to life with my words, accompanied by graphics. I like designing themed STEM camps. I also like speaking to audiences about the importance of STEM in a way that’s relatable.
But above all, I enjoy being in a teaching environment, and I love seeing a student take concrete steps toward creating the future they want.
Do you have advice for someone who wants to become a STEM education facilitator?
Having a degree is useful, coupled with expertise in any subject. But beyond a degree, you need to have passion, be creative, and be prepared in a STEM discipline to help students flourish academically. I also suggest forming partnerships with organizations that can help you to reach more students in need of STEM support.
Any future plans?
I’m developing a self-paced program that includes features like online help, self-assessment, and a social network for potential study groups and collaboration. My goal is to increase the supply of capable, adequately prepared students considering STEM careers—and, ultimately, to expand the number who become successful STEM workers.
Patricia Tate, "STEM education facilitator," Career Outlook, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, March 2021.