For nearly 25 years, PLTW has offered transformative classroom and learning experiences for PreK-12 students. Now, many of those students are professionals in STEM fields. We recently reached out to several PLTW alumni to learn more about their educational and career journeys and find out what advice they have for current PLTW students. If you are a PLTW alumnus interested in sharing your story, we’d love to hear from you here.
Mafer Larraga Martinez lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and is an Orthotist/Prosthetist at the Hanger Clinic. In high school, Mafer completed Principles of Engineering, Introduction to Engineering Design, Digital Electronics, and Computer Integrated Manufacturing in the PLTW Engineering program.
In what grades did you participate in PLTW? What were some of your most memorable experiences from PLTW?
I participated in PLTW in 10th, 11th, and 12th grades. Some of my most memorable experiences were making a marble sorter in Principles of Engineering as part of an all-girl team and making a puzzle cube in Introduction to Engineering Design, which was the first time I used a 3D modeling program and loved it!
It was cool to solve a problem with girls after always seeing men in engineering roles and not a lot of women. I remember our solution, including sorting the marbles by how high they bounced when dropped. I remember our teacher, Ed Neumann, saying that was a solution he'd never seen, so it showed how different people might have different perspectives and ideas.
What did your journey look like to get to where you are today?
After high school, I got my degree in biomedical engineering at the University of Iowa. I worked in a biomechanics lab as a research assistant for a summer and spent many hours shadowing at orthotics and prosthetics clinics. I then went to Baylor College of Medicine for my master’s degree in prosthetics and orthotics, which included four residency rotations in different clinics around the country.
What is your current role within your company? What are your responsibilities in this position?
I currently work as a clinician. My day-to-day consists of seeing patients. I do the evaluations to determine what sort of orthotic or prosthetic device they need, choosing a design and either fabricating it myself or writing work orders for technicians to fabricate, and fitting the devices, including all follow-up care. Part of the job is also completing notes, writing to insurance, and communicating with other members of the healthcare team.
What did you learn in PLTW that still helps you today?
PLTW classes gave me a strong foundation in systematically approaching problems, which I still do today. Additionally, the base knowledge I received on manufacturing in Computer Integrated Manufacturing helps me better communicate with technicians. An example of using technical communication comes to mind from Introduction to Engineering Design where we had to do detailed drawings of our reverse engineering project and write a report. I often have to communicate with technicians and other clinicians about design and fabrication techniques.
Do you have any advice for current PLTW students?
Take time to learn about different career paths! I only learned about my current field by going to different lunch-and-learns in college. Engineering can take many different forms, so make sure to explore your options.
Mafer is currently Climbing for ROMP. Learn more here.
We had the opportunity to also connect with one of Mafers’ former teachers, Edward Neumann. Edward is a BHS tech. ed./engineering instructor, STEAM coordinator, and Engineering Design and Development Master Teacher. He is also a 2021-22 and 2022-23 Outstanding PLTW Teacher.
Do you have any advice for new PLTW teachers?
The PLTW network is very supportive and generous in sharing information. As a Master Teacher, we love to support our participants if it's a day after training or a decade! If you run into challenges, reach out to other teachers as we've most likely had the same bumps in the road. Embrace that you don't need to be an expert on all things (your students will become the experts), learn from failure, solve problems, and it's okay if the first year doesn't go perfectly; few things in engineering and manufacturing work out beautifully the first time.
How do you build community in your classroom?
Creating a safe space for all students is a priority in my classroom. A place where all people are invited to share their opinions and offer solutions without judgement. This secure environment promotes free thinking, creative solutions, and showcases individual students' talents and personalities.
How do you build lasting relationships with your colleagues? With your students?
Be a good listener and take time to understand the needs of each individual. I've made so many unbelievably brilliant, dedicated, and talented teachers and students via PLTW who I am honored to call friends. I assume some of my former students would not have thought that as a freshman in high school. I love to hear what colleagues and former students are currently working on. This has led to great opportunities for my current students for real-world examples, field trips, competitions, and guest speakers.
PLTW provides PreK-12 schools, teachers, and students with hands-on, interdisciplinary STEM-based curriculum that uniquely prepares students for life and their future careers.
PLTW rejuvenates teachers, providing world-class experiences that keep them on the forefront of how to prepare students for the demands of tomorrow. PLTW:
- Has provided professional development opportunities to more than 80,000 teachers giving them the support and resources needed to inspire students
- Offers best-in-class teacher training: PLTW Core Training with Master Teachers
- Continuously updates teacher resources that are available on demand
- Facilitates teacher networking opportunities
- Develops curriculum by a team of writers, many of whom are former teachers
Learn more about PLTW on pltw.org