Photos by Cary Edmondson

Carrying ideas from NASA to the classroom

By MARISA MATA, Student Writer

Jaime Vargas (2007, ’09) has a love for science that flourished during his time at Fresno State and while he worked with NASA, where he learned concepts and practices that he now applies when teaching his students at Edison High School.

Originally from Selma, Vargas attended Fresno State as a first-generation student majoring in physics. He was interested in art more than anything else during high school until a lab in his junior year physics class, building and launching rockets — a lab he now does with his students every year.

Vargas thought it would be easy to find a job after earning his bachelors and masters. He confidently walked into a career fair, but soon found there weren’t many options for someone with a physics degree. But he did come across a booth for Noyce Scholars. He said, “The Noyce Program aims to get STEM professionals into teaching, teaching at high need schools.”

“I was finishing up my masters in physics when I decided to go back to get a credential so I could become a high school science teacher. A decision that was one of the best I have made in my entire life.”

Vargas began teaching at Edison in 2010. He teaches alongside two other Noyce Scholars, Jennifer Click (2009) and Sara Meadows (2008).

In 2010 he also took an internship as a teacher researcher with NASA.

“For my first internship I was characterizing the impacts of current and voltage on what is known as a comb laser that was going to be used for spectroscopy to detect the various isotopes of methane. Since I was new to teaching for my first internship it was a struggle relating the techniques and information to my freshman physics classes.”

“During the second internship [in 2012] I really focused on being able to take what I was learning back to my students. For this internship I was working with the Deep Impact Science and Engineering team to design an observation campaign that would allow my students and other students around the country to compete for a chance to control an observation satellite and conduct their own scientific research.”

“From my time there I was able to gather a lot of great information that was useful for teaching my students about basic orbital mechanics and how observations of exoplanet transits can be related to Kepler’s Laws. While the project wasn’t completely funded for deployment within the classroom, it was still very cool to be able to bring back some of the team practices and information that was shared with me during my time at the lab.”

Vargas returned to Fresno State this fall to teach a physics class. He said, “It’s different managing a college class. The issues are different. In high school it’s not just physics; there are students that need help developing their social and emotional skills too.”

Vargas has continued to teach at Edison since 2010, and plans to stay there.

“My favorite part of teaching is seeing students grow from the first to last day of school. From their freshman to senior year. I like seeing them go on and become young adults.”

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