By May S. Ruiz
Jenny Lu was born and raised in Sacramento by first-generation Chinese immigrants who started a sewing business where she and her four siblings worked while growing up. Her parents encouraged their children to pursue their own interests; her siblings are small business owners and restaurateurs. She moved to Southern California where she went to college and earned an education degree, and then landed her first teaching job at Walnut Park Elementary School in Huntington Park.
Currently a teacher and literacy coordinator at Delevan Drive Elementary School in Los Angeles, Lu has lived in Arcadia for the last 15 years with her husband, a compliance professional at a large insurance company in Orange County, and their two sons. Now she’s also a writer and has launched a Kickstarter campaign to realize her dream of becoming a children’s book author.
“My upcoming book, titled ‘Emma Ren: Robot Engineer,’ has diverse characters and takes place in the classroom setting where all children can relate to,” describes Lu. “It’s about a young girl named Emma who had always loved building things. When she was assigned a project to build a battle robot, she couldn’t be happier. However, her partner Jeremy assumed she couldn’t build robots because she’s a girl. But she doesn’t get discouraged and continues to persevere.
“It chronicles the school week of robot-building and highlights a STEM (science, technology, engineer, and math) approach. This is a fun book that promotes key skills, which include problem-solving, creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration. This book is important to me because I have dreamed of becoming a children’s book author since elementary school. I wanted to show children that dreams can come true and it’s never too late. I also want to provide books that celebrate diversity and encourage children to learn key concepts of STEM through picture books.”
Lu is well aware of expectations and perceived limitations of women. She says, “I’ve always had a love for STEM subjects but my passion was to work with children. Growing up, I felt engineering was more suited for boys as I didn’t know of many females in that field. I can recall experiencing many gender stereotypes as a young child. Now that I am a mother and educator, I have different perspectives on gender roles, gender bias, and gender stereotypes in today’s society.
“As a parent, I have encouraged my boys to work hard, love learning, and pursue their passions. My eldest son chose to go to Rancho Lab School instead of the traditional school because it offers students the ability to work on projects in areas they are passionate about (Passion Projects), participate in STEAM projects (Makerspace), and engage in project-based learning. He is 12 years old and is currently a seventh grader. After attending Rancho Lab School he has developed a passion for math and programming. My youngest son is 10 years old and goes to Hugo Reid Elementary School. He says he also wants to write a book.”
“I believe that I have the same perspectives as a parent and as a teacher,” adds Lu. “My message to my boys and my students is that they should always work hard, develop a passion for something, never give up, and break the glass ceiling.”
Lu started writing her book in May last year during lockdown as a means to connect with young children and in a way that would encourage them to cultivate an interest in STEM, especially among minorities and young girls.
Asked what her inspiration was, Lu replies, “I was inspired to write this book after noticing that the characters in most children’s books do not reflect the diversity at the schools that I’ve taught at. As a result, I was motivated to write a children’s book promoting STEM and include diverse characters from different backgrounds. Having been an educator for almost 20 years, I strongly believe STEM education will lead children to be future scientists, programmers, engineers, mathematicians, etc. According to the 2021 United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the BLS expects an uptick in STEM jobs over the next decade and forecasts over 8 million STEM-related workers by 2029.”
Many educators and psychologists say that boys and girls have the same abilities and interests as they start school. It is only later, around middle school, that each gender shows a particular inclination towards STEM or the arts and humanities.
“From my experience as an educator, I see more boys getting interested in STEM than girls around the age of 10,” confirms Lu. “I believe at that age, children start to see the social expectations, gender stereotypes, and gender roles that society has presented. Children feel that they have to conform to these standards and expectations. This is why it’s important for parents and educators to teach children that they can follow their dreams and choose their career based on their interests and not what others believe they should do.”
Continues Lu, “In my opinion, when girls do well in STEM subjects but choose not to pursue careers in the field, it’s because of peer pressure in a male dominant field, lack of female role models and support from parents as well as teachers, and general misperception of what STEM careers look like in the real world.”
Long before STEM-based learning became a watchword in education, Asian parents have been guiding their children towards that path. Lu opines, “I feel that many Asian parents encourage their children to pursue STEM courses since it will lead them to pursue advanced degrees and ultimately careers that will protect them from discrimination and help them achieve financial stability. Furthermore, I believe that the majority of Asian parents believe STEM careers usually involve less subjective assessment from employers and customers and have passed on that belief for many generations.”
Given that job growth will occur in STEM fields and girls have the ability to excel in them as much as boys, it becomes imperative for educators to sustain that until students reach high school when they prepare for college application.
“I believe it involves the collaboration of the entire community including the administrators, teachers, parents, and the larger community,” states Lu. “Administrators have to support and fund STEM programs in order for teachers to have the appropriate resources and integrate that into their lesson plans. Teachers have to believe in the value of STEM education and teach these skills in their classrooms. In addition, parents have to continue to support teachers and their children as they pursue STEM interests. Lastly, the community also needs to continue providing support for STEM education and success.”
What children are exposed to during their developmental years stimulate their thought processes. And ‘Emma Ren: Robot Engineer’ is a delightful way to introduce STEM to preschoolers. Aimed at children ages 4 to 8 years old, Lu’s unfussy words and George Sweetland’s kid-friendly illustrations are guaranteed to be an endless source of intellectual curiosity and fascination.