REDDING, Calif.—Simpson University alumna Rochelle Barajas loves the moment when she sees young women in her classroom work through an engineering challenge, whether it’s programming a robot or adding lighting elements to clothing and accessories.
“The biggest joy I have as a Femineer teacher is watching that ‘ah-ha’ moment on the faces of young ladies,” she said. “It’s the joy of figuring something out, building something from scratch and making it work, and helping a fellow Femineer with a problem.”
Barajas, who graduated from Simpson University’s School of Education in 1999 with a Master of Arts in Education, has taught at Red Bluff High School – her alma mater – since 2000. She is department chair for the Industrial Arts Department and has taught electronics, computer repair, and is developing the school’s computer science program.
In 2018 she also trained and secured a grant to start a chapter of the Femineers at Red Bluff High School. Started by Cal Poly Pomona’s College of Engineering in 2013, the Femineer program is designed to encourage more girls to pursue education and careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).
More than 90 schools across the country (mostly in California) participate in the program, which provides K-12 students with creative, hands-on, project-based learning; female mentors in the engineering field; and opportunities to visit Cal Poly Pomona. The Red Bluff chapter is the northernmost program in California.
Barajas learned of the program when she attended computer science training at San Diego State University, where she saw a presentation on the Femineer program. It captured her interest; and two years later, at another STEM conference, she attended a session on the Femineers and began corresponding with the presenter.
She was invited to attend Femineer instructor training in summer 2018 and at the same time applied for a grant to start the program in Red Bluff. The grant paid for all the tools, programmable boards and other items needed to start a Femineer chapter.
Last year 24 girls participated in the Red Bluff program, completing a curriculum on Creative Robotics and starting one on Wearable Technology. Though the pandemic has slowed efforts to recruit and meet regularly this year, participants are still meeting when they can, Barajas said. The third Femineer course is Pi Robotics, for which Barajas received training in fall 2019.
The Red Bluff High School Femineers have worked with the Tehama County Department of Education to help with STEM camps during the summer and hosted small STEM workshops during the school year. In addition, the Femineers have presented to after-school programs in the North State and are working with Reeds Creek Elementary School and Berrendos Middle School, both in Red Bluff, on after-school activities to extend the Femineer program.
In March 2020, the Red Bluff Femineers presented at an AAUW Women in STEM conference for middle school girls held at Simpson University. They showed participants how to program a microcontroller to make lights come on in different sequences. While there, Barajas met university President Norman Hall and learned about Simpson’s new STEM programs in engineering and computer information systems.
Barajas said she selected Simpson University for her graduate studies for several reasons. Simpson’s School of Education offers a program that combines work on the master’s degree with work on the preliminary teaching credential (or preliminary administrative services credential), and she wanted to obtain both.
In addition, she liked the flexibility and convenient schedule. “They offered classes at night and weeklong classes during the summer,” she said. “This made it possible for me to go back to college and still work full time.”
After graduating from high school in 1988, Barajas earned an associate’s degree in electronic engineering from ITT Technical Institute in the Sacramento area and a bachelor’s in automated manufacturing and robotics from ITT in Portland, Ore. She then worked for Sun Electric, focusing on diagnostic equipment used in the automotive industry, before deciding to pursue teaching.
Barajas said her education at Simpson University was personalized and practical.
“Simpson University provided me with fantastic professors and a class setting that made me want to learn,” she said. “Each professor brought their own professional experiences to the classroom, and faculty walked me through the entire path of my education and made calls to open doors for job interviews for me. I was never a number or dollar sign to any of my professors.”
Faculty modeled compassion, respect, and showing love to others, she said. “I believe they wanted to teach as Jesus taught,” she said. “That philosophy was passed to me. There is power in knowing that your teaching is praying with you and for you.”
Barajas said she is excited to see her graduate-school alma mater expanding in STEM-related programs and hopes to develop a partnership between Simpson University and the Femineer program in Red Bluff.
“I come from a STEM education and career, so I try to encourage all my female students to pursue STEM careers,” she said, admitting there are still obstacles for women in a traditionally male-dominated field, and much hard work is required.
“I share my experiences with them and seek to be a role model,” she said. “It is hard work, but the reward is so worth it. The opportunities for women in the STEM industry are incredible.”
Photos and slides courtesy Rochelle Barajas
Simpson University, a Christian university founded in 1921, moved to Redding in 1989 and will celebrate its centennial in 2021. In addition to offering 20 traditional undergraduate programs, the university has graduated more than 4,000 North State adults from its degree-completion program, and nearly 3,000 from its School of Education. It has a No. 7-ranked School of Nursing, a seminary, and master’s programs in counseling psychology and organizational leadership. The university has a highly ranked Veterans Success Center and partnership with the Army National Guard. Simpson has launched new programs in digital media, computer information systems, and engineering, and recently added athletics programs in track and field, swimming and diving, women’s wrestling, and men’s volleyball, as well as a bass fishing team ranked No. 1 in California and No. 52 in the nation. Simpson University contributes an estimated $50 million annually to Redding’s economy. It offers aggressive scholarships and is working to better serve transfer students from community colleges through its commitment to Associate Degree for Transfer agreements. Learn more about Simpson University at simpsonu.edu.