It’s not surprising that Staci White is passionate about learning, given that her mom, dad, grandmother and uncle were all teachers. She is equally enthusiastic about passing on the message that a good education opens the door to a better life.
Staci has spent 19 years working as a mechanical engineer, the last six with Donaldson Company, a worldwide filtration systems business. She’s also an active JA volunteer who has taught programs ranging from kindergarten to middle school to senior high.
Staci’s introduction to JA came when she began working at Donaldson, which is a strong supporter of the program. Donaldson has also hosted the JA Job Shadow program at their facility to offer high school students an opportunity to observe a variety of manufacturing and STEM career possibilities.
“I think I called JA and said, ‘Are there any middle schools or high schools near here where you need help?'” Staci says. “That’s how I got started.” Staci says that she’s particularly drawn to working with older kids because she enjoys the energy that occurs in the classroom.
JA offers curriculum tailored to a variety of ages. Staci says that when she taught kindergarten, the program focused on community and teamwork. When she taught seniors, the lessons were about ethics. And, for the 7th graders, the focus was on planning for the future.
“From my own experience, I probably got the most satisfaction from those 7th graders,” she says with a smile. “In middle school, the kids are still really interactive. They just have this energy, and they will connect with you on day one, and they’re really excited for you to come back the next week.”
At the start of the JA 7th grade class, students write down their interests, and the JA volunteers then show them a chart that lists a wide variety of possible jobs that correspond to those skills. “You’re helping the kids say, ‘Well, I really like drawing, but I also like math,’ ” Staci says. “With that, the student might want to become a technical designer. You’re helping them connect the dots and think about their futures.”
Staci can draw a direct line back to her own childhood when it comes to her decision to become an engineer. She took a field trip to a local college as an 8th grader, and as part of the college’s presentation, a speaker talked about chemical engineering. She says, “At that moment, I decided that’s what I wanted to be.”
By college, Staci had changed her focus slightly to mechanical engineering – a discipline she likens to “a family practice doctor, since you have to know a little something about everything.” She’s also completed her master’s degree in mechanical engineering and is working on her doctorate in the same field.
“For me, I’m all about choices and people owning their actions,” Staci says. “Within the JA program, it will come up during class that a student wants something really badly. I’ll say, ‘Do you remember when we talked about such and such? How do you think you’re going to be able to get that?’ I want to train them on how to think, how to look forward to what they want and how to make a plan for getting there. And, I want females to see that they can go into a technical field. I always hope that I help some young person imagine, ‘I could be that, too.’ ”