Iuliana Cherevko and Archana Jain

Robotics coach encourages girls to pursue STEM careers


Archana Jain

Sometimes students need a helping hand and sometimes a sympathetic heart.

Irvine High teacher Archana Jain provides both.

Jain, a former aerospace engineer who teaches math and engineering and coaches the robotics club, also oversees a high school chapter of the Society of Women Engineers – where her influence has been known to change lives.

Just ask Iuliana Cherevko, who arrived from Ukraine with her family last year.

“Mrs. Jain came to me and said if I needed anything, come to her, and we can talk about anything,” she says. After Russia invaded three months later, and Cherevko, 17, grew despondent about relatives back home, she got a needed emotional and academic boost from one of Irvine’s most inspirational teachers.

She’s not the first to get such help, either. Jain has mentored scores of students in her nearly 20 years at Irvine High.

A champion and cheerleader

Jain’s teaching career followed a decade of work for employers, including the U.S. Navy. Since then, she has made it part of her mission to encourage young women to pursue careers in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

“She’s their champion and cheerleader, not giving up on them – and they sense that and truly believe it,” Irvine High Principal Monica Colunga said in 2018, when Jain was named IUSD Teacher of the Year.

Soon after arriving at Irvine High, Jain created the Irvine Technology and Engineering Center to give students access to industry software in a project-based curriculum. She also helped lead the propulsion team for the acclaimed Irvine CubeSat program, in which students from six Irvine schools built and launched two nanosatellites.

“She definitely gave me confidence and provided me so many opportunities and led me to not be afraid to be a leader.” – Stacy Soewono, former student

“I remember in school having some amazing professors and others who told me until the day I graduated, ‘You don’t belong; you need to change your major,’ ” Jain says. “I was fortunate that I had a lot of support from my family, but it’s really hard if you don’t have that.”

Tough love

Her support is often of the tough-love variety.

“It frustrates me to see how a lot of girls are still so apologetic about being smart,” she says. “A lot of times they’ll say, ‘I’m sorry, but I have a question,’ and that’s when I send them back to their desk and say try again.”

Today, she says, she often gets emails from past students, now in college, saying her classes changed their expectations of what they could achieve. “That’s really my reward,” she says.

“Mrs. Jain is awesome,” says Stacy Soewono, 21, a senior, majoring in civil engineering at California State Polytechnic University, and one of the students who has kept in touch.

She’s grateful in particular that Jain encouraged her and her friends to launch the high school chapter of the Society of Women Engineers that Jain now directs.

“She definitely gave me confidence and provided me so many opportunities and led me to not be afraid to be a leader,” Soewono adds.

Cherevko, who plans to be captain of the robotics team next year, agrees. Jain recently helped build her confidence in considering which colleges might best prepare her for a future career in computer software development.

“I’m applying to Stanford,” Cherevko says. “I think I have a good chance.”

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