Nationally Recognized Education Analyst Joins Cyber-Challenge Advisory Board


By Lesia Winiarskyj

CBIA’s Education Foundation has tapped work-based learning expert Gary Hoachlander to facilitate the newly formed advisory board guiding its ITEST (Innovative Technology Education for Students and Teachers) project.

The project is a coordinated effort to increase Connecticut students’ engagement and achievement in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and math), their enrollment in Advanced Placement science, math, and English classes, and their interest in energy, aerospace, and biotechnology careers: key industries in the state’s economy. The project is funded by a $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation awarded to CBIA’s Education Foundation. Partners include the Connecticut Science Center and EASTCONN.

As part of the project, teams of high school freshmen work together in a yearlong Cyber-Challenge program to answer complex questions posed by leading energy and technology companies. Mentoring and support comes from employees of those companies, CBIA Education Foundation staff, and tenth grade students. Students are expected to use web animation, video, and wikis to answer their questions and present their findings.

Progress Report

Now in its second year, the project has grown to more than 250 student from three high schools: East Hartford, New Britain, and Wilby (in Waterbury).

“In our first year, we made measurable gains in student self-efficacy and confidence in math and science,” says Judy Resnick, executive director of CBIA’s Education Foundation. “That’s critical, because students cannot excel in a subject if they don’t believe they’re capable.”

Resnick adds that relevance is also crucial to the program’s continued success. “We need to keep connecting classroom learning with the real world,” she says, “and few people know how to do that better than Gary Hoachlander.”

Work-based Learning

Widely known for his expertise in career and technical education, Dr. Hoachlander is president of ConnectEd: The California Center for College and Career. He is a leading policy analyst and consultant for the U.S. Department of Education, including its National Center for Education Statistics and the Office of Vocational and Adult Education.

Work-based learning, he explains, is a way of extending and deepening students’ experience in the classroom. Though activities don’t have to take place in a work setting, they must have results and value beyond success in school. Involving industry professionals as evaluators of students’ progress, Hoachlander says, lends credibility and authenticity to the work those students are doing. It is especially helpful, he adds, to involve professionals from companies young people know and recognize.

That’s good news for the ITEST grant project, whose four major corporate sponsors: United Technologies Corp., Pfizer, General Electric, and Northeast Utilities: are among the state’s largest science and technology-based employers. Managers, human resources specialists, and engineers from those companies serve as Cyber-Challenge student advisors, ensuring that learning outcomes are aligned with real-world expectations.

Next Steps

Hoachlander recently met with members of the ITEST grant advisory board at CBIA’s offices. The group, which includes school officials and industry professionals, discussed the project’s achievements as well as priorities and strategies for improvement. Their recommendations include

Building interdisciplinary teacher teams that allow for planning across the content areas

Facilitating greater in-class (as opposed to after-school) participation in Cyber-Challenge

Providing teachers with Cyber-Challenge questions before the start of the school year to enable differentiated instruction and deeper connections to the curriculum from the outset. Having the questions in advance, teachers said, will also allow them to assess and develop students’ prior knowledge.

Increasing the emphasis on work-based learning and relevance

For many students, Hoachlander says, the traditional high school curriculum and the way it’s delivered seems abstract and disconnected from the real world. Interacting with working professionals and collaborating with them on solutions to authentic problems gives young people “a context in which to better understand algebra, literature, biology, chemistry, and physics,” he says, “and provides a hook for digging into that material and beginning to master it at a higher level.”

Among the Cyber-Challenge questions that freshmen are puzzling out this year are how to develop a business plan for a product in the electric vehicle charging market, increase access to natural resources via technology, work up an accurate medical diagnosis, and run a cost-benefit analysis of Google PowerMeter. Roughly 130 freshmen are involved, and sophomores who participated last year are acting as peer mentors.

Students will unveil their results at the Connecticut Science Center on May 23. Industry professionals will serve as judges, and awards will go to teams with the most thorough, creative, well-researched, and professional multimedia presentations.

For updates on CBIA’s education and workforce development programs, visit

Lesia Winiarskyj is a writer/editor at CBIA. She can be reached at

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