It was around the sixth grade when Diego Cardenas Rivera started to take an interest in STEM disciplines. At that time he became involved with the MESA program at Peoria High School. He learned about the program through his older sister, who now has a masters in engineering.
The MESA program aims to increase access to STEM pathways and encourage college readiness for low-income, minority or first-generation college-bound students.
Rivera said Jeff Sears, the club’s co-advisor, sparked within him a deeper interest in engineering, and motivated him to pursue an eventual career in the field.
Now Rivera, who graduated this year, is going after an occupation in aerospace engineering and currently attending West-MEC with plans to attend ASU’s top-rated engineering school.
“Mr. Sears was a big help. He was always there after school. He was able to get any material we needed for my projects. He was a really good person to rely on,” Rivera said. “Everybody has something good to say abut Mr. Sears.”
For 26 years Sears has been teaching all aspects of science at Peoria High School and mentored hundreds of students, many who have gone on to become teachers, engineers, mathematicians and other aspects within the STEM discipline. He has also mentored a number of teachers as he serves as the science chair and runs the science department to help younger teachers grow in their skills.
For his efforts, Sears has been named the Peoria Independent Hometown Hero in the Trailblazer category.
The Hometown Heroes Awards are a celebration of individuals who live or teach in the city, and Peoria businesses for their local achievements and distinguished contributions to the community.
Sears will be honored at an awards luncheon next year.
In partnership with the city of Peoria, Mr. Sears has been interviewed by the city and aired on Channel 11.
Over the years, Sears has had many students pursue careers in the STEM fields.
He really appreciates his position as a teacher and said it's great when kids set off into a career path and then come back and share their story.
"It is incredibley important especially for kids who are under represented or for those who may not fit a niche, like the athleites or the student council," he said. "It is so important for those kids to get involved in something and encourage them to be apart of something so they can be involved and share with others."Assistant Principal Cedricia Hester said Mr. Sears is a servant leader and trailblazer for inspiring many past Peoria High School graduates and introducing them to the wonderful world of science.
“He is reliable, responsible, intelligent, focused and is very good at teaching students how to be the best versions of themselves,” she said. “He helps both students and teachers excel and we are so grateful to have him on the Peoria High School campus.”
Sears has shined as an advisor in the school’s MESA Club. Members of the club routinely win a number of state competitions in the MESA program and send dozens of students — particularly those who are underrepresented in the STEM fields — to study engineering and mathematics at the next level and who also earn scholarships to top schools.
“Although Jeff Sears would never take credit as being sole reason these students are so successful in the program, his contributions, along with that of his colleague, David ‘Skinny’ Hill, are well-known and very well-respected on our campus,” Ms. Hester said.
Between leading the MESA program and serving as the junior class sponsor, all of Sear’s time is spent on campus working with students, who like to converge on his classroom after school to work on projects or just hang out.
Hill said the MESA program often brings in socially and economically disadvantaged students who may have never used a hammer and nail before.
Even if some students don’t go into a STEM career, they look to college and take with them experiences they will use later in life, Hill said.
“Jeff’s room is always open. It is a place where students can be themselves,” Hill said. “He pushes the kids because he knows they have potential and really encourages them. They are so much better for that.”
Philip Haldiman can be reached at email@example.com, or on Twitter @philiphaldiman.