Ben Nguyen has opened a new world of opportunities in science, engineering, manufacturing and robotics to students at Sunrise Mountain High School (SMHS) in Las Vegas. He arrived to teach physics in 2014 via Teach for America, but soon realized that students had no way to apply the concepts they were learning. The after-school robotics club Nguyen started has since grown into a robust class and competitive robotics program. Students participate in events like VEX Robotics, FIRST Robotics and drone challenges. Nguyen and his students host booths at conventions like the LVL UP Expo, a video game and anime event, and InterDrone and Commercial UAV Expo, which showcase drone technology. Beyond SMHS, Nguyen has built the robotics program at a feeder middle school and works with more than 15 schools in Las Vegas to create robotics opportunities for students in third grade through high school.
Thousands of students across Nevada have benefited from Nguyen’s commitment to preparing students for STEM careers. In addition to robotics, Nguyen now teaches automation and manufacturing technology, programs he brought to SMHS and funded through grants and online fundraising drives. He has built a network of partnerships with educational and commercial organizations, including Tesla, Nevada Business Aviation Association, Desert Research Institute and the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV), and mentors other automation and manufacturing teachers throughout the state. SMHS is a high-transience, high-poverty school, and Nguyen makes a point of recruiting at-risk students to join his programs. Driven and dedicated to the young people he teaches, Nguyen paints a picture of their future success and helps them believe in their ability to achieve it. SMHS graduates have gone on to study manufacturing, automation and computer science; a handful now hold skilled labor jobs at Tesla. In the five years Nguyen has taught at SMHS, the school’s graduation rate has risen from 34% to 93%, with Nguyen’s efforts earning significant credit.
Nguyen has built a community at SMHS around STEM. Students gather in Nguyen’s classroom before and after school. Family support is integral to students’ success in STEM, so Nguyen includes parents in a shared vision of students leading the professions of the future and overcoming generational poverty. Noticing that ACT scores were low, he started tutoring and test prep bootcamps. In addition to teaching, Nguyen develops partnerships across Nevada and abroad for GRADD (Global Robot And Drone Deployment), a local technology company.
Nguyen earned a bachelor’s in anthropology in 2014 from Dartmouth College and a master’s in secondary science curriculum and instruction in 2016 from UNLV.
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