Noyce Alumni Profile
Undergraduate major or graduate field of study: B.S., Biological Sciences; M.S., Chemistry
Category of scholarship/fellowship:
Name of Noyce institution:
California Polytechnic Institute, San Luis Obispo
Current teaching assignment (school and district):
High Tech High, San Diego, CA, Instructional Coach
What made you decide to become a teacher?
I always wanted to be a science teacher. When I got to college, I realized I wanted to teach from personal experiences, not the text book. This would be difficult without becoming a biologist first. I met a professor at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, who talked to me about opportunities through the Noyce Scholars Program. The Noyce STEM Teachers and Researchers (STAR) Program would allow me to conduct research in the summers and transform the research into lessons for my students during the school year as a “teacher-researcher.” I applied to become a Noyce Scholar and have been a teacher-researcher ever since.
Describe your current teaching assignment.
I have been a teacher at High Tech High (HTH) since 2013 and now work in the HTH Central Office, supporting 800 teachers and co-designing safe projects for students. HTH is a network of 16 Title 1 charter schools that serve over 5,000 students in grades K-12 across 4 campuses in San Diego. Our schools face high turnover rates as well as having full-inclusion classrooms serving students with diverse needs.
How did the Noyce program prepare you for this assignment?
Whether it was support from the STAR Program to become a teacher-researcher with summer professional development or being a part of the network that has expanded my connections with educators across the country, Noyce has helped me in my preparation and retention as a science educator. The summer workshops held at Cal Poly provided access to planning time and space with educators with whom I would not normally have had the opportunity to collaborate and conduct lesson studies.
Here’s one example of how the STAR Program helped me to become a teacher-researcher and to share my knowledge with my students. During the third summer of STAR, I worked at the NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center in San Diego on a project that involved learning how to work in a molecular ecology lab to extract RNA from sea turtle blood to compile a library to be used in genomic sequencing. During my time on the project, I reached out to scientists at the laboratory and was invited on several sea turtle capture field trips. Since I was teaching at a local school, the invitation was extended to my students as well. I was also able to network with scientists outside of the Marine Mammal and Turtle Division. Because of my connection at the NOAA lab site, I was able to establish a partnership between my school and the local university to allow my students to do authentic research in a real laboratory setting. This is especially significant for my students; we are in a low-income community and don’t have the funding to support that hands-on lab experience in the classroom.
Did the Noyce program at your university prepare you to use teaching strategies that can help all students learn in all settings?
Through the Noyce program, I learned about the value of providing differentiated phenomena for my students who come from different backgrounds. I remember that on my first day of teaching I shared a short presentation with my students about the research I had done over the summer: studying breaching great white sharks off the coast of South Africa. I talked about the methods involved in the field work, data collection, and analysis. At the end of the class, a female student stayed behind and walked to the front of the room. What she said had a profound impact on my teaching. She opened my eyes to inequities in education that I didn’t even know existed. Pointing to the photo of me cage diving with sharks that was still projected on the wall she mused, “I didn’t know girls could do that.”
Since then, I have been empowered to become an educator who works to close the gaps between historic inequities. I aim to help marginalized students become champions of science and mathematics and see examples of professionals outside of their textbooks that are relatable role models who they can aspire to emulate. Because of the research experiences at NASA and NOAA as a part of the STAR Program at Cal Poly through the Noyce Scholars Program, I immediately reaped the benefits by teaching to engaged and inspired students when I brought these experiences into the classroom. This also quenched my thirst for science professional development and motivated me to apply for the PolarTREC Program sending me to the bottom of the world to study astrophysics. Working alongside scientists at the South Pole, I had the opportunity to bring science virtually into classrooms around the world while conducting outreach events explaining interactions between subatomic particles in the ice in Antarctica.
How do you use what you’ve learned (content and pedagogy)?
The science content I’ve learned from research opportunities at NASA and NOAA through the Noyce- sponsored STAR Program has pushed me as a scientist, and the support I’ve received from peers as educators as well as my Noyce PIs have aided me in my professional development – from contacts to funding for outside professional development not supported by my school.
Overall, the STAR program made a significant impact on my teaching career. It set me apart during my job interview and impressed my administrators that I’d had lab experience at NASA and NOAA, and most important, my students clearly benefit from the connections that I’ve made through these research opportunities. It gives them a context for learning when I can share stories about the real science that I’ve conducted, and they see how I am still learning about new technology and new laboratory techniques that I can then bring into the classroom. One of my goals as a teacher at HTH is to teach my students how to be life-long learners; I love that STAR gave me the opportunity to do this alongside my students.
I think that leveling the playing field is one of the best ways to provide students with a common experience. For example, some students have never been to the beach or have limited exposure to that, so if I can take my students snorkeling to see the marine life in the ocean, I’ve provided them with a common experience that we can talk about when we get back to the classroom.
In addition to teaching, are you exploring new areas in content, teaching strategies, leadership, etc. If so, what areas and did the Noyce experience play a role?
Because of my experience with the STAR Program, I was selected as a PolarTREC Teacher and traveled to Antarctica to participate in research at the South Pole. In 2015, I decided to pursue my M.S in Chemistry from South Dakota State University while teaching full-time. This was an incredibly humbling experience juggling full-time course work and energy investment in my students. After defending my thesis in Fall 2017, I focused my efforts entirely on teaching and taking on leadership positions at HTH while I geared up to apply for doctoral programs. I’m currently in a Ph.D. program led by the Noyce PIs at San Diego State. I feel confident that I’m learning educational leadership strategies targeted specifically for Next Generation Science Standards and science in general.
I joined the 100kin10 Fellowship, a network of educators advocating for effective recruitment and retention of STEM teachers nationwide. When I joined the National Network of State Teachers of the Year in a project team, I began to realize the importance of teacher-research experiences that provide enrichment for my students and for me. I am also aware that my teacher-research experience was incredibly rare and unique. I hope to have a broader impact on education and find ways to make these opportunities more accessible to STEM teachers, encouraging them to remain in the teaching profession.
Describe any highlights/special achievements during these beginning years of teaching?
In addition to becoming a Noyce Scholar, I’ve received scholarships and grants: 100kin10 Fellowship, Bright Idea Society Grant Recipient, San Diego Zoo Safari Park Program Grant Recipient, Birch Aquarium Program Grant Recipient, Target Travel Grant Recipient, and the Knowles Science Teaching Fellowship Finalist. I am a member of the 100Kin10 working group that brings together educators to discuss how to change recruitment and retention of STEM teachers. I’ve had experience leading professional development training around climate change and have presented at science-based and education-based conferences as a panelist and with my students.
After finishing the PhD program at San Diego State, I hope to take on a faculty position as a teacher educator at a university. I think the process of teacher recruitment and retention is extremely important and want to collaborate with others who value this work. I hope that I can share my passion for teacher-research experiences with new STEM teachers, encouraging them to find research opportunities they can bring into their own classrooms and share with their students.
Through this program, I want to learn how to bring about systemic change. I want to encourage educators to become scientific role models for their students. I want the field of science to become a tangible and practical avenue for every student entering a science classroom. I envision an education system where every student is empowered to pursue any profession they choose regardless of their background. I hope to someday hear my future students say, “I’m a girl, of course I can become a scientist!”