Ed Hernandez left a well-paying but unfulfilling job to become a high school science teacher. He teaches his students to use SOLIDWORKS and be self-sufficient, and his program at Tustin High school has had some major success stories. You can read Part One of Ed’s story here.
Ed Hernandez told me a story about one of his students who is a Certified SOLIDWORKS Associate (CSWA). Ed makes all of his students create a hard portfolio, where they print out all their CAD drawings and other materials and put them in a binder. One of Ed’s students graduated from his program and went on to take classes at a community college. To pay the bills, the former student also worked at a car shop where he tinted windows. One day a customer came in with a Tesla, and the student “being the guy he is,” quipped Ed, asked how he could get a car like that. The Tesla owner informed the him that he ran an engineering prototyping firm, that’s how he could own a car like that. The former student then informed him that he was SOLIDWORKS certified. To which the Tesla owner replied, “Yeah, right.” So the former student showed the car owner his certification and portfolio and, long story short, that former student got an interview and now works at that Tesla owner’s engineering prototyping firm.
“Oh my God,” I said.
“I couldn’t make it up if I wanted to,” Ed said back.
Ed spent 13 years translating nerd-speak, grinding away in technical sales, and waiting every month for his paycheck. Now he’s spent another 13 years as a high school teacher, beginning his teaching career as a math teacher, and he currently heads Tustin High School’s prestigious T-Tech Academy of Technology & Engineering. T-Tech is an award winning STEM program, starting eight years ago with a single engineering class of 25 students and blossoming into a multi-discipline, 4-year program with over 250 students.
It began with a grant. The Tustin Unified school district was given the opportunity to apply for a STEM grant that dealt with 3D printing and CAD. “Nowadays you can get a 3D printer at Home Depot,” Ed explained, “but back then nobody had really heard of it. So my principal said, ‘Hey, you have an engineering degree. Do you want to do this thing?’ And I said, ‘Sure, beats teaching another section of bonehead algebra.’”
After receiving the original grant, Ed started training himself in SOLIDWORKS so he could teach his students. Now he uses the CSWA exam as a final exam in his sophomore Product Design and Engineering class, and 50% of his program’s 250 students are certified in SOLIDWORKS. This is Ed’s first year teaching SOLIDWORKS to sophomores—originally he only taught it to seniors, then after a few years began using the software with juniors. And he is still having the same level of success with the younger age group.
“[SOLIDWORKS] has become a cornerstone of any pre-engineering program,” Ed said. “If you do 3D modeling, you can go on to a software based approach, like video game design or graphic arts. Having that 3D modeling experience, it goes a long way. And if you do hands-on hardware, if you already know how to put your ideas into a 3D model, it’s way easier to then use those tools to make something bigger and better.”
Today, students in the T-Tech program have two branches of study: computer science or hardware. According to T-Tech’s website, the “hardware pathway emphasizes traditional engineering practices and curriculum and includes robotics and hands-on applied physics activities,” and the “software pathway includes an introduction to computing principles, App development, Arduino, programming, and more.” Students get to take appropriate classes for their focus, complete a senior capstone project, and go on to college. 50% of all graduating T-Tech seniors end up majoring in STEM at four year universities. And this past summer, students from Ed’s original class of 25 graduated from college and entered the workforce.
Ed keeps in touch with his students, and they give him updates on their progress through college and beyond. One of Ed’s student recently graduated from UC Berkeley. She was his first student to become a CSWA, and during her freshman year in college she e-mailed him slides from her SOLIDWORKS class with the note, “Mr. Hernandez, look at what we’re doing! It’s so easy!”
On the other hand, he’s also had students leave the engineering field entirely. One student who went through four years at T-Tech called Ed from UCLA and said, “I’m sorry, Mr. Hernandez, I don’t think this engineering thing is for me.”
“She felt really bad, telling me that,” recalled Ed, “and I said, ‘Hey, that’s okay. I just saved your parent’s $20,000, because if you’d figured it out halfway through your third year in college, you would have changed your mind and it could have taken you a lot longer to get your degree.”
Ed was emphatic when he told me, “My goal has been to expose students to a technology field, and whether or not they want to pursue it beyond that, that’s up to them. But at least this way they’re making an informed decision.”
And his students are definitely informed. Juniors in T-Tech have the opportunity to apply for prestigious summer internships with Boeing, an opportunity only offered to 12 high schools in Orange County, CA. T-Tech has also partnered Eon Reality, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, and UPS, among others, to give high school students real-world interning experience. Students of the T-Tech program have gone on to schools like UC Berkeley, UCLA, UCI, UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara, Michigan State, Cal Poly SLO, Cal Poly Pomona and many more. And this year, for the first time, two of Ed’s students will be applying to MIT.
Last year Ed got an e-mail from an old student. “Mr. Hernandez, do you remember me? My name is Ricky. I was in your class three or four years ago. I’m finishing up my third year in aerospace engineering and I just came back from an internship at NASA. Can I come by and talk to your kids?”
“I had to stop and think, Is this the same kid I’m remembering?” laughed Ed in recollection. The man who showed up to talk to his current students was not to same boy who took his class. “Here was this young man who was incredibly bright and mature and talked about his plans for going to work for NASA and he was going off to [the Jet Propulsion Laboratory] for another internship. And he mentioned, ‘I still use some of the things you talked about in class.’” It was a proud moment for Ed. “You never know who you’re going to impact and what kind of a difference you’re going to make. I’m wondering how many other Ricky’s are there that have possibly gone on to do great things? And if I had a tiny bit to do with it, then that’s really cool.”
Ed’s impact on his students is obvious. They are impressive, and the types of skills obtained and projects they’ve completed are something to be seen. Find out more about the types of projects Ed’s students work on in Part 3: Projects.