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Recycling Scientists into Science Teachers

Ben Schrader wants to be a high school science teacher in Houston. The 55-year-old chemical engineer plans to reach his goal with the help of a new cooperative program, between the Chevron Corporation and three universities, that addresses both the problem of unemployment in the oil industry and the growing shortage of science teachers throughout the nation's secondary schools. Getting a good education has always been important to Schrader, who expects his youngest child, a high school senior, t

By | January 26, 1987

Ben Schrader wants to be a high school science teacher in Houston. The 55-year-old chemical engineer plans to reach his goal with the help of a new cooperative program, between the Chevron Corporation and three universities, that addresses both the problem of unemployment in the oil industry and the growing shortage of science teachers throughout the nation's secondary schools.

Getting a good education has always been important to Schrader, who expects his youngest child, a high school senior, to follow his five older siblings in obtaining an undergraduate degree. But it wasn't until last fall that Schrader decided to retire early from his position at Chevron as manager of marketing operations for a five-state region in the Southwest and take the plunge into the classroom.

Schrader, who joined Gulf Corp. in 1953 after having graduated from Texas A&M University, is one of 5,000 employees who has left the company since the announcement in February 1984 that Gulf and Chevron would merge. But he isn't ready to take it easy.

The program, known as Encore, was launched last spring after a group of high school science teachers who toured a Chevron off-shore oil rig complained about the difficulty of finding enough teachers with science backgrounds. Company officials pointed to the large number of scientists and engineers in the company facing layoffs as a result of plunging oil prices, and wondered if some might be interested in changing careers. Chevron began to talk to university administrators at various schools of education. They settled on three cities—San Francisco, New Orleans and Houston—that are home to large numbers of laid-off employees.

Any person who left the two companies after February 1984 and who possessed at least a bachelor's degree was invited to participate. The company budgeted $385,000, based on a cost of $3,500 per student and a maximum of 35 participants at each site.

"This population is a rich resource for us because of their academic background and their ability to convey to students bow a particular field of study translates to the real world," explained Loye (Mickey) Hollis, director of the Center for Teacher Education at the University of Houston, one of the three universities in the program. But he acknowledged that the program may not be right for everyone.

"Anyone going through a midlife career change is going to have some problems," Hollis said. "In particular, someone who has been an administrator or a manager for many years—in other words, a boss—may find it hard to switch to a school setting where the students don't necessarily see the teacher as an authority figure to be obeyed without question.

The former Chevron employees will remain together as a group at each site. Each will be paired with a faculty member for personal counseling, and they will attend seminars to deal with problems they may face as students as well as future teachers.

Despite the chance it offers for a new start, the program requires a 12- to 18-month commitment with little or no opportunity to earn money. And a starting salary of $20,000 or so for a high school teacher hardly compares with what is offered by private industry.

A week before classes began in Houston, almost one-half of the slots at the three sites remained open. Houston program director Culton Ingram admits the company has had some trouble recruiting the minimum number of former employees needed to operate the program successfully at all three sites. "People get a little nervous when it's time to sign on the dotted line," he said.

Even Ben Schrader confesses to having second thoughts about sitting in a class with students who are younger than his children. "But I'm excited about it, too. It's a chance for a second career, an opportunity to make a real contribution to society."

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