Noyce Alumni Profile
Dieuwertje (DJ) Kast
Undergraduate major or graduate field of study: B.S. Biology; Master of Arts in Teaching
Category of scholarship/fellowship:
Noyce Teaching Fellow
Name of Noyce institution:
University of Southern California
Current teaching assignment (school and district):
University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, STEM Programs Manager, Young Scientists Program
What made you decide to become a teacher?
I was inspired to be in STEM because of my dad, Dr. W. Martin Kast, a professor at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California (USC). I grew up learning about his research on the Human Papillomavirus and cervical cancer. He was very happy when I applied to USC as a freshman biology major and then did the progressive master’s program in marine biology. I found my passion for science education at USC where I was accepted into the Noyce program for science majors seeking a Master of Arts in Teaching. After graduation, I taught in a few high-need schools, including Ontario High School and Ruth Musser Middle School.
Describe your current teaching assignment.
I loved teaching in the classroom but wanted to make a difference on a larger scale so joined USC’s Joint Educational Project (JEP), one of the oldest and largest service-learning programs in the US. I created a STEM program for high-need schools called Wonderkids. It included STEM careers and focused on bringing scientists of color and women to students of color in the community. I recently became the STEM Programs Manager for the Young Scientists Program (YSP) which encompasses both the Wonderkids and YSP programs.
My USC STEM programs are designed to “level the playing field” for low-income and underrepresented students. It is rewarding to see my students succeed because of the impact of these programs. Some have gone on to enroll in STEM majors in universities; it fills me with joy and pride when I hear their success stories. Through my work, I have been able to provide STEM instruction to over 23,000 underserved students, 600 educators, 20 school principals, and countless community members. My education philosophy is focused on hands-on, inquiry-based, and authentic STEM learning experiences.
The Young Scientists Program (YSP) is an inquiry-based, hands-on science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) outreach program that aims to address a critical lack of science education in the USC JEP partner schools by recruiting STEAM undergraduate and graduate students to serve as Teaching Assistants. Under the direction of the JEP STEM Programs Manager and individual YSP Site Coordinators, they bring scientific laboratory experiences directly to students and their teachers.
The YSP science curriculum functions as an effective supplement to science instruction in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) schools. It incorporates Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), as well as LAUSD and state-wide grade-level science learning standards, with the goal of strengthening science literacy and promoting interest in scientific careers. YSP’s primary objectives are to present accessible and engaging science lessons to the children in the neighborhoods around the university, assist in alleviating the fear and stress that is often associated with studying science, and help students apply what they learn in the classroom to the real world and to their own lives.
Wonderkids, an after-school, hands-on informal STEAM career education program, serves first through third grade students in seven participating LAUSD schools. In addition to exposing children to advanced scientific fields through inquiry-based pedagogy and concepts at an early age, the program also introduces students to professionals in specific STEAM fields.
During the summer, I teach a STEM research methods course for high school students in the USC Leslie and William McMorrow Neighborhood Academic Initiative (NAI), a seven-year, pre-college enrichment program designed to prepare low-income neighborhood students for admission to a college or university. Students who complete the program and meet USC’s admission requirements are eligible for a full 4.5-year financial package, minus loans, to attend USC. NAI offers enhanced classes at USC on weekday mornings, the Saturday Academy, after-school tutoring, remedial and enrichment sessions, workshops on time management and study skills, PSAT and SAT1 preparation, STEM classes, cultural field trips, and recreational activities. I have been able to hire NAI scholars to teach STEM in their own community and schools.
How did the Noyce program prepare you for this assignment?
Drs. Frederick Freking and Anthony Maddox were my science pedagogy professors during the USC Noyce program that awarded the MAT@USC to science majors. I learned about inquiry-based science instruction and flipping the classroom so that I became more of a facilitator of science learning aka the “guide on the side” in stark contrast to the “sage on the stage” model.
Did the Noyce program at your university prepare you to use teaching strategies that can help all students learn in all settings?
Yes, I think the MAT@USC did an excellent job preparing us for culturally responsive teaching. My favorite class (Framing the Social Context of High Needs Schools) really looked at the assumptions you make about your students. I remember having to write a paper describing my students without assumptions. It was difficult. I found myself stopping to address each assumption I had already made about the students, including gender, race, ethnicity, income, etc. The assignment and the class as a whole opened my eyes to the importance of incorporating culturally responsive teaching and the issues of access and systems of inequity that exist in our society, especially as relates to STEM.
In part, it’s due to this class that I am devoting my career to leveling the playing field for low-income students of color in STEM. The JEP STEM programs target students who are considered economically disenfranchised and racially and ethnically underrepresented in the sciences, including African Americans, Latinx, and American Indians or Alaska Natives. The racial demographics of the students participating in the programs include approximately 82% Latinx, 12.62% African American, and 0.1% Native American. Nearly all of the participating students come from currently underrepresented groups in the health-related science fields. Approximately 36% of students at the participating schools are identified as English Language Learners (ELL); on average, 98% of the participating ELL students speak Spanish.
To ensure that culturally sensitive pedagogy is implemented, all curricular materials are translated into Spanish. Any books that are chosen to support/supplement the science lessons are in Spanish and English and feature main characters of color. Many of the staff who work with the students are bilingual and teach in both languages. In addition to exposing children to advanced scientific fields and concepts at an early age, the program also introduces them to professionals in specific STEAM fields; they are socially and culturally diverse role models who can encourage these students to pursue their own scientific education and endeavors.
How do you use what you’ve learned (content and pedagogy)?
I use the content and pedagogy learned during my Noyce scholarship as guiding principles for my STEM programs. I continue to collaborate with my pedagogy professors—Dr. Maddox is my advisor for the Doctorate of Education in Educational Leadership. They help to train my YSP staff on inquiry-based and hands-on science instruction and the incorporation of NGSS. Our lesson plans are all in the 5E format so participating students start with the engage-and-exploration components with hands-on science experiments or engineering design protocols.
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?
I am a doctoral student in the USC School of Education, focusing on Teacher Education in Multicultural Societies in STEM, exploring the technological pedagogical and science content knowledge of STEM content for elementary educators. My mixed methods research uses a quantitative assessment focusing on underlying themes such as technology integration and STEM content at the elementary level, and will finish with interviews of elementary educators and science teacher educators from varying educational contexts (formal, informal, and nonformal) to generate a personal qualitative narrative to parallel the quantitative themes.
I am also a 2020 outreach fellow for the National Center for Science Education (NCSE). As part of the fellowship, I helped launch the NCSE Graduate Student Fellowship, a year-long course for six STEM graduate students to work in underserved areas around the US. Over the year, the Graduate Student Fellows will focus on informal education pedagogy, science communication, and outreach using hands-on activities they develop based on their own research. By the end of the course, the fellows will be equipped to provide effective community-based science throughout their careers.
Describe any highlights/special achievements during these beginning years of teaching?
I’ve been fortunate enough to receive a number of honors and fellowship opportunities that relate to my teaching and work with underserved communities and that add to my knowledge of science and pedagogy. A few include:
- City of STEM, STEM Icon of Los Angeles Finalist (January 2020)
- National Center for Science Education (NCSE) Graduate Student Outreach Fellow (November 2019)
- USC Rossier Second Century Alumni Award – Rising stars in their fields that support educational equity (August 2019)
- Forbes 30 under 30 in Science Recipient (November 2015)
Noyce taught me how to find resources and adventures and take advantage of the available opportunities in STEM education. Some websites that I use regularly are: (1) https://ambitiousscienceteaching.org/, (2) https://www.nsta.org/, and (3) https://ncse.ngo/supporting-teachers/classroom-resources.
I must give credit to my parents who have been amazingly supportive of my work. It’s because of the support from my family and other STEM education mentors that I’ve been able to be successful.