Inspiring a New Generation of STEM Leaders
Cindy Celi 2015 WW New Jersey Teaching Fellow
Teaching had always been in the back of Cindy Celi’s mind. As a mother of young children and as trained architect and interior designer, the idea of going back to school and changing careers seemed daunting. Still, Mrs. Celi was committed to marrying her passion for education to her profession.
“One day I realized something was missing in my life,” recalled Mrs. Celi TF ‘15. “I wanted to take all my knowledge that I gained and all these skills that I had acquired and make a difference.”
As a student at a vocational high school, she was inspired to pursue architecture by her architecture drafting teacher. He had such a great impact on her, she hopes to now be that same source of inspiration for her own students.
Mrs. Celi earned her master’s in education from The College of New Jersey through the WW Teaching Fellowship program and currently teaches all three levels of architectural and engineering design at West Orange High School in New Jersey.
In her advanced class, Mrs. Celi started architecture history Fridays, where students present an architectural style or an architect’s work to the class. Her architectural and engineering design II students participate in technology Thursdays, a time to present a piece of technology to the rest of the class. For Mrs. Celi, projects like these serve several purposes. Not only does she learn a lot from these presentations, but students are able to take agency over their own learning. Students also have to practice follow-through: “They have to sign up for a date. I don’t remind them about that date, because I want to put the accountability and responsibility on them,” explains Mrs. Celi.
Outside of her classroom, Mrs. Celi’s students get to practice the skills they learn in class by improving various school spaces. In 2017, her students presented ideas to the West Orange Board of Education for repairing an athletic dome that had burst over winter break. In 2018, the Principal’s cabinet of West Orange High School sought out her students to help redesign a faculty workroom. Recently students have been working on redesigning courtyards on campus.
“We took pictures, we did site visits, we measured the room, really doing what designers do,” Mrs. Celi said. “Over the summer, the school took some ideas that the students had presented and made the changes. The kids are seeing that their work is paying off.”
By leading her classroom and providing real world applications for the work, Mrs. Celi hopes to inspire her students, especially her female students, to pursue a career in a science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) field. As a Latina, Mrs. Celi knew that her initial path to success in STEM would be rocky. She thanks her high school architecture drafting teacher, with whom she keeps in touch, for making sure she wasn’t caught by surprise by the racial and gender inequality in the industry. This has also given Mrs. Celi perspective on the importance of her presence in the classroom as a woman of color.
“Your faculty should reflect the diversity and the demographic of your students,” Mrs. Celi said. In the past four years, the female-male ratio in her class has shifted drastically—it’s now much closer to 50-50.
“I have a very big hunch that the young lady population in my classes has developed and grown because I’m in the classroom. I could be tooting my horn, but because they see a lady leading the classroom, they think—oh, if she can do it, so can I.”