Downey High School Femineer Advisor Ms. Jennifer Lara and some of her DHS Femineers (photo was taken prior to COVID)

At the end of March, San Diego State University (SDSU) and Cal Poly Pomona (CPP) announced that Downey High School teacher, Jennifer Lara, was named the first ever High School Femineer Teacher of the Year.  This announcement comes after many years of partnership between Downey Unified and CPP’s Women in Engineering program. Ms. Lara was selected for this award after being nominated by Downey High School and the district office.

“Over the past four years, Ms. Lara adopted the Femineer program as her own and has inspired many of her students to pursue the engineering field in college,” shared CTE Teacher Specialist and District Femineer Coordinator, Karlin LaPorta. “In fact, three of her current seniors have recently been accepted to Cal Poly Pomona’s engineering program.”

With only 15 percent of all engineering jobs occupied by women, Downey Unified has provided an opportunity for female students to fill this need and be more successful post-graduation by continuing to expand a female-focused engineering program, Femineer, throughout the district. In partnership with CPP’s Women in Engineering Program, the Femineer program has been integrated within Downey Unified’s four middle schools and two comprehensive high schools to provide better opportunities for these young women to learn firsthand what a career in engineering would encompass.

Lara has been involved in the Femineer program since 2017 when she first became the advisor at Downey High School. She has led female engineers through various STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) projects over that past four years.  Downey High School Assistant Principal Adrian Quintero shared his support for Lara in a letter that was submitted with her nomination. “Ms. Lara is a dedicated educator with a passion for giving students a platform to maximize their creative and intellectual potential,” Quintero wrote. “Her work is of the highest caliber and any award that is available to recognize greatness as a human being, mentor, colleague or teacher should be bestowed upon her.”

Lara will be recognized and honored as the 2021 Ellen Ochoa Femineer Program High School Teacher of The Year during the virtual Femineer Submit on May 12, 2021. Beyond the recognition, SDSU and CPP’s Femineer Programs will be awarding Lara a $1,000 stipend to support her continuous efforts in growing and sustaining the Femineer program at Downey High School.

“Ms. Lara has opened the world of engineering to students who would have never considered the field had they not been part of her Femineer program at Downey High School,” expressed LaPorta. “Her commitment to her students and this program knowns no bounds and the success of her students is a testament to that.”

The Femineer program was originally created and funded by CCP’s College of Engineering in 2013 to inspire additional females to pursue STEM in their education and career. SDSU’s College of Engineering adopted the Femineer program in the fall of 2016. The program provides K-12 students with project-based learning, female engineering student mentors, and opportunities to visit a Femineer affiliate university, while building a sustainable program and community for current and future STEM leaders.

Dr. Ellen Ochoa, a SDSU College of Sciences alumnae, gifted a $1000,000 contribution to the SDSU College of Engineering Femineer program some years ago. This newly established Femineer Program Teach of the Year award has since been named in her honor. Ochoa is an American engineer and the first Hispanic female astronaut to go into space in 1993 where she served on a nine-day mission aboard the Space Shuttle Discover.