While we have a unique opportunity to spend time at home together, we’re excited to introduce some special content, with inspiring stories and spotlights on our incredible students and teachers. We’d be thrilled to hear from you if there are any meaningful moments or recent projects that you’d like to share with us.
Fairmont is honored to be rated by Newsweek as Orange County’s top private school for the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) program in 2019. The recognition is for our Advanced Science and Engineering Program (ASEP), which offers all STEM courses, as well as a number of additional opportunities, within a collegiate approach. The honor is in no small part due to our incredible teachers — all of whom are all trained in STEM, are professionals in their fields, and have a research background — including Ms. Jaya Leslie.
Ms. Leslie is the originator and Director of the ASEP program and a STEM educator for over fifteen years. In 2009, Ms. Leslie merged Fairmont’s medical magnet and engineering magnet programs — both with fundamental traits of problem-solving, creativity, and perseverance — to create ASEP. “It was important for students to develop both a science and an engineering mindset,” she says about the origination.
A researcher and scientist herself, Ms. Leslie reached out to professors at a number of universities, including UC and other prominent schools, to ensure that her curriculum met the highest standards for each subject, was current in its data, and would prepare students for the most demanding university science and engineering programs. While ASEP has now been in place for many years, she continues to consult institutions and incorporate top programs, including that of the UCLA California Nanosystems Institute. This freedom for entrepreneurialism is one of the things Ms. Leslie appreciates about Fairmont. “[Fairmont] is like being in a startup mentality where you can change and implement,” she says. “It’s very nimble. You have the ability to create an innovative curriculum which prepares students.”
For an idea of the kind of exciting work that students are able to do through ASEP — one assignment includes designing an assistive device for someone with physical challenges, which Ms. Leslie points out helps to illustrate the importance of incorporating empathy in solutions. In ASEP courses, students learn things like lab techniques, experimental design (e.g. why the design of an experiment influences its validity), building circuits, presentation skills, cooperative group work, and problem-solving, as well as academic skills like learning how to fail.
Students are also encouraged to invest in areas of interest, particularly within their projects. Senior Olivia Bobrownicki, who has created a formula that could help prevent overdosing of chemotherapy, says, “Ms. Leslie has a very different style of approaching projects. There’s a lot of freedom to investigate and make it your own…Because students pick things that are interesting to them, they are passionate about it, and we learn more in-depth and are more creative with the work.”
Another aspect of the approach that mirrors higher academia is peer mentoring. Ms. Leslie hosts lunches every week where younger students can get tutoring from those who are more advanced. Says Oliva, “When I struggled in chemistry as a freshman, Ms. Leslie told me, ‘I noticed a lot of students are having trouble. Here’s a list of people you can contact if you want help — these are juniors and seniors who are happy to work with you.'”
“There’s a lot of support,” Olivia adds, “so even though it’s difficult, it makes it more doable.”
Ms. Leslie also has students attend conferences, as a professional would, to expand their presentation skills and knowledge. Each year at the annual Measurement Science Conference in Anaheim, ASEP students present research they’ve been conducting.
Ms. Leslie’s combination of STEM study and collegiate-level experiences has significantly elevated the level of results that students can achieve and prepares them for a bright future.
“The skills we use as freshmen in high school are the same skills being used by grad students working for government labs,” says Olivia, as she recounts a time in which she was able to show professionals how to use equipment she had learned through ASEP.
We’re proud to have Ms. Leslie, as well as all of the talented educators of our ASEP program, and our dedicated students, within our Fairmont family.