Board Support & Communications Specialist
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Carlton Stice, Principal of Calaveras Hills High School (commonly referred to as Cal Hills), says math and engineering teacher Sridaya Mandyam-Komar has been a strong advocate for building student pathways since joining the continuation school in fall 2015.
“Sridaya works so hard and is open to bringing our students great, out-of-the-box types of opportunities,” he said. “She has developed a course in engineering that now has approximately 60 alternative education students turned on to engineering in a powerful way that could change the trajectory of their lives.”
Because of Mandyam-Komar’s ongoing dedication, Stice said it came as no surprise when the Santa Clara County Office of Education (SCCOE) recently selected her as one of three winners in its Texas Instruments Innovations in STEM Teaching Awards.
“When I was selected as a winner, I felt genuinely happy for Cal Hills and what we represent,” Mandyam-Komar said. “Seeing that my students were curious about STEM and how some of them had started to map out their future in STEM careers was reward enough for me. This award makes this reward even sweeter.”
Mandyam-Komar will be honored at the 48th annual Teacher Recognition Celebration, presented by the SCCOE, at 7 p.m. on September 14 at the Heritage Theatre in Campbell. Along with the STEM honorees, the event will also recognize 32 accomplished educators, selected from their respective districts.
“One of the great pleasures of hosting the Teacher Recognition Celebration is having an opportunity to learn about all of the excellent teachers within Santa Clara County, including Milpitas Unified School District’s teacher Sridaya Mandyam-Komar,” said Summer Reeves, Communications/Public Relations Specialist with the SCCOE.
Mandyam-Komar credited the vision of Principal Stice and dedication and persistence on her end to create an engineering course at Cal Hills, which has gained her the recognition.
“As our students are primarily here to recover credits, it was not very clear how this would pan out,” she admits. “It is gratifying to see that our students rose to the occasion and persevered to finish the course with success.”
She added her students have benefit immensely from the generous funding for the engineering program. Mandyam-Komar has been able take them on field trips to The Tech Museum of Innovation in downtown San Jose and local universities, along with bring in a guest speaker, all of which has provided access to career and college options. The support has also allowed them to have a fully equipped computer lab and 3D printer, to enrich their everyday coursework.
“I have been fortunate to teach at a school and district that value risk taking and innovation,” she said. “Bringing the engineering course to Cal Hills has definitely made me see myself as a powerful catalyst in sparking student interest.”
Earlier this year, students engineered endless possibilities for their future through FlexFactor, a four-week entrepreneurship program offered by NextFlex, America’s Flexible Hybrid Electronics Manufacturing Institute. The project -- offered to students in Mandyam-Komar’s “Intro to Engineering” classes -- was run in collaboration with participation from local partners including the City of Milpitas, Evergreen Valley College, and Flex (previously Flextronics) in Milpitas.
Students worked in teams of four to conceptualize a Flexible Hybrid Electronic device focused on human health or performance monitoring, and develop a business model around their product. They pitched their ideas in a Shark Tank-style, three- to five-minute presentation to a panel of representatives.
“Her engineering course and the NextFlex project was such a great success I knew they would want to honor her for her hard work to help facilitate that project,” Stice said.
Reeves explained that the STEM awards were added to the Teacher Recognition Celebration in 2012 as a way to honor special instructors in Santa Clara County public schools who are sparking their middle- and high-school students to enjoy and excel in science, technology, engineering, and math.
“Sridaya Mandyam-Komar is a model selection for this award because of her passion for STEM education, and her work toward creating student equity in STEM education,” she said. “Her nomination stood out because Sridaya is a teacher who is using the power of a STEM education to change her student’s lives by exposing her students to processes and industries, and offering a high-quality STEM education to high-risk credit recovery students.”
With the support of Superintendent Cheryl Jordan, Stice said he and Assistant Principal Karisa Scott nominated Mandyam-Komar for the award as a way to “honor her for the dedication to our students.”
Before teaching at Cal Hills, she taught math at Silver Creek High School and San Jose High School for over a year each and at Homestead High School for 10 years. But her passion for education began years before, growing up in India, where she learned about the traditions of how revered a guru, also known as a teacher, is.
“I always had an innate desire to be able to work with our youth and to hopefully influence them to see what great things they could achieve,” Mandyam-Komar said.
Another aspect that inspired her to become an advocate for students was being a volunteer in her children’s classes, where she quickly noticed many kids didn’t have the same level of access as her own. Furthermore, Mandyam-Komar noticed that women are underrepresented both in the high-tech industry and in engineering schools.
Mandyam-Komar was already trained as an engineer and was working in the industry as she volunteered as a parent. Becoming a teacher was her way of contributing to lessen the inequity. Mandyam-Komar studied Electrical Engineering in Bangalore University, India, earning both Bachelor's and Master's degrees in 1991 and 1995, respectively. She worked as an engineer in several Bay Area companies from 1997 to 2002. Mandyam-Komar started teaching in 2002 and later earned teaching credentials in math and CTE (Career Technical Education in Engineering sectors) and a Master's Degree in Education from National University, San Jose in 2005.
“It was apparent that as our girls got into higher grades, their comfort with, and thereby enrollment, in advanced STEM classes dropped,” she said. “I wondered if I could be part of the solution, being a woman trained in STEM, by inspiring girls such as my own daughters to get into STEM careers.”
She said this was important to her for a simple reason.
“If only our students, irrespective of their identity, could see how important STEM careers are, both in terms of their own earning potential and contributing to today’s technological advances, we would have twice the progress in areas related to STEM,” Mandyam-Komar said.
Dr. Madeleine Dasalla-DiSanto was also named a winner for the Texas Instruments Innovations in STEM Teaching Awards. During the June 27 Board Meeting, Superintendent Cheryl Jordan shared that Dasalla-DiSanto is a teacher at the District's sister school, Silicon Valley Career Technical Education Center with Metropolitan Education District.
"I don't think that it's general knowledge that this school actually is an extension of Milpitas Unified," she said. "It's part of a joint powers agreement and we along with five other school districts support that school. And, in turn, that school provides an opportunity for many of our students."
Each of the winning teachers will be honored at the Teacher Recognition Celebration in addition to receiving a cash award of $1,000 and the opportunity to attend a professional development event at the SCCOE. For more information about the award, read the News Release from the SCCOE.