Oscar Garcia: The Kennedy Fab Lab: Incubator of STEM Careers in Richmond

Radio Free Richmond


I was ecstatic when I first learned about the Fab Lab at John F. Kennedy High School in Richmond. As someone who attended Kennedy and other Richmond schools, I am very happy to hear that kids in Richmond will have hands-on lessons of what they can expect in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) career. As an environmental engineer, I hope the Fab Lab will inspire more Richmond youth to seek highly compensated STEM careers and drive economic growth in the city. 

When I attended Kennedy, a STEM career seemed so out of reach, and I knew very few college graduates let alone scientists and engineers. However, my parents and my high school chemistry teacher, Ms. Ervin, pushed me to apply to UC Berkeley, where I graduated with a degree in Chemical Engineering. Sadly, not enough Richmond students are being pushed towards a STEM careers. I was the only person in my graduating class from Kennedy that attended UC Berkeley, and today I know very few people raised in Richmond that have STEM careers.  

That is a shame, because STEM careers are some of the most highly paid jobs for people with a bachelor’s degree. According to Payscale.com, a chemical engineer with a bachelor’s degree earns on average $69,500 straight out of college and $118,000 midway into their careers. The average income in Richmond is $68,000, so a chemical engineer in Richmond will earn well above the average income in the city. Additional engineers in Richmond means more homeowners, more purchases at local stores and restaurants, and the economic stability that will help eliminate crime and poverty in the city. In a city with several companies that hire STEM majors, we need to do more to ensure our youth are qualified to work at these companies. Otherwise non-Richmond residents will continue to take these highly skilled jobs and drive local residents out of the city. 

Chevron’s investment in STEM majors makes perfect sense because the baby boomers are retiring in droves and that is creating a skilled labor gap that the industry is eager to fill. The UC Berkeley Global Campus (BGC) will also create a large need for researchers and engineers, further driving the need for local highly skilled labor. STEM careers are required to design and operate industrial facilities, to manage research labs, and Richmond youth should capitalize on these job opportunities.  

Our city would be completely different if Richmond residents comprised the majority of Chevron and BCG employees, therefore our city should continue creating the opportunities to make that happen. Our kids deserve it.   

The crime and poverty issues in Richmond can easily be eradicated if we continue investing on the STEM careers that create economic opportunities for our Richmond youth.  

By: Oscar Garcia

Oscar is a resident of the Iron Triangle that currently works as an environmental engineer at Chevron. He enjoys spending his free time with family, in the outdoors, participating in Richmond Rotary events, or volunteering at local youth oriented programs. 

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