Frederick STEM teacher gains perspective on real-world opportunities

As a Biology and Environmental Science teacher at Gov. Thomas Johnson High School in Frederick, I have the pleasure of watching my students discover the world around them and begin developing interests as they embark on their very different pathways. Each year, almost 200 students walk through my classroom doors and although many will not pursue a future in STEM, the process of inspiring young minds is very rewarding. 

Jessica visits a production facility at AstraZeneca.

Each student is so different, which is why opportunities like the Teacher Externship Program from the Maryland Chamber Foundation are so important. This program gives teachers perspective into what is important for students beyond just the content. In addition to fostering community partnerships that I am hoping to develop further and utilize over time, I can now give my students a much larger view of their future career possibilities which exist right here in their backyard. Students may not have exposure to some of those opportunities otherwise, unless they have a parent who is connected to that area. 

From the time I walked in the door at AstraZeneca, I was welcomed by all employees, up to senior leadership. The culture was extremely welcoming throughout my entire time on site, people would just come up to me and chat. 

The focus during my externship at AstraZeneca was a dive into ALL the areas that make the company run so efficiently. We visited every department on the campus, with the exception of finance. When I say everywhere I mean literally everywhere! We were on the roof, in the basement water treatment area, in the labs, on the manufacturing floor, with facilities staff, project management, operational excellence and everything in between!  

Jessica learns from the AstraZeneca team on workforce & development.

A theme that ran through the company – do not think you cannot work in the Biotech industry because you “weren’t good at science, or don’t have a degree yet.” There are many opportunities open to people from entry level high school grads to people with a doctorate degree. I met employees who came into the industry out of high school because they didn’t think college was an option, and then pursued the tuition support to obtain their degree and are now working on a management level. This area in particular has vast amounts of doors and opportunities for those willing to say yes and try something new!  

Another core value I heard from all the different departments is to be a lifelong learner. Never stop developing yourself and take chances when they come your way. Yes, all students should have a general idea or plan, but be open to new opportunities. You never know! A new opportunity could take you on an exciting journey where you never envisioned yourself.  

As I gear up for the start of the new school year, I am armed with so much fresh information to share with my students. AstraZeneca has even agreed to help bring professionals to my classroom to speak on engaging topics with my students, which is priceless! Biotech has a stigma around it that you need to be a scientist or have a degree in science to work there and I learned that is absolutely not true. Pulling back the veil of mystery around these big companies has opened my eyes, and I cannot wait to get back into the classroom and inspire young minds to pursue careers in STEM. 

Jessica Roderick teaches Biology and Environmental Science at Gov. Thomas Johnson High School in Frederick County. 

Learn more about Maryland Chamber Teacher Externship Program here, and meet all of our incredible 2022 Teacher Externs.






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