Friday, August 26, 2016

Jennifer DiBrienza, Ph.D. (WSC '93, STEINHARDT '94) on STEM Programs and the Future of Education


A former classroom teacher, Jennifer DiBrienza has worked as an education consultant with school districts across the country and internationally since 2001. She shared with us her experiences as an educator and the importance of teaching students to be ready for the unknown.

What did you study at NYU?

I thought I was going to go into Social Work but I found myself interested in Psychology. When I started thinking about becoming a teacher, Psychology seemed like a really good fit.

What's your favorite memory of NYU?

Meeting Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Joe DiMaggio before commencement!

What drew you to education?

I always loved math and I was aware of the general attitude of Americans (adults and children) that you are either a "math person" or you aren't. I decided to go into education with the hope of dispelling that myth.

Can you tell us about your experience working as a teacher in the NYC public school system?


I can tell you that New York City is the greatest place in the world to teach. The diversity of culture, language, experiences, and perspectives made it a fascinating, challenging and exciting place to teach. I taught in District 2, which was doing very innovative things and was supporting their teachers with a lot of high quality professional development. So I felt it was the perfect mix of great learning for me and interesting students and families.

What advice would you give to students and alumni interested in pursuing a career in teaching?

It is a labor of love and if you are interested you should spend time in great classrooms to be sure it's a good fit and if it is, find a great teacher preparation program and give it your all. We need great people in the profession.

My last bit of advice is that the world is different now. Children don't necessarily need to know the same things we learned back when we were in school, we know more about best practices in teaching. Good teachers are always working to reflect on and improve their practice. It doesn't look like it did when we were in school. If you are going to go into teaching, you will likely be more successful if you leave your own school experiences in the past and embrace all that has been learned about how children learn and what the skills are they will need in the future.

Why are STEM programs important?

STEM programs encourage students to consider professions in the ever-growing fields of science, technology, engineering and math. We want these careers (and passions!) to be open to anyone who wants them, so it's important to expose students to these ideas and these experiences at a young age.

At the same time, the humanities are still relevant! I think we often forget that it's not all about technology. I think the goal is to expose students to as much as we can, so they can be inspired and find the right fit for them.

You are running for a seat on the Board of Education in Palo Alto. What motivated you to run?

There are so many wonderful things about Palo Alto schools. We are lucky enough to have strong community support for a world-class education. That being said, there is always room for improvement. While school boards benefit from the experience and knowledge of community members with expertise in budgeting and management, I think we can make better, more informed decisions when someone who brings an educators frame as a part of those conversations.

What is it like managing a campaign?

Busy! There are a lot of moving parts. So it's important to gather the people who support you and want to help. You can't do it alone. From designing campaign literature and lawn signs to organizing and hosting coffees and other opportunities to meet voters, there is a lot of work to be done. You can't be shy about asking for help or you'll never get it all done.

Where do you see the future of education going?

One of the founding principles of this country was that it was a priority to create an educated citizenry. Over the years, how that is defined has changed significantly. The U.S. Dept. of Labor recently released a study that said that 65% of all students who are currently in schools will work in jobs that don't yet exist. That is an amazing statistic. And it tells us something important. We are no longer training our students for specific jobs. We are teaching them to be ready for the unknown - to think, reason, justify, make connections between familiar things and new things, to work together to solve problems. This is what we mean when we say 21st century learning. This is where schools should be heading.

What are your favorite books or podcasts?

My favorite podcast right now is the West Wing Weekly. I loved that show when it first aired and watched every episode multiple times. To get to revisit each of them, in detail, with new perspectives and a lot of humor, is priceless.

My books tend to be a combination of education books (Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck is a great one), social justice books (I just started The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead) and an occasional novel (The Girl With a Clock for a Heart, by Peter Swanson was fantastic).




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