Noyce Scholar Profile
Undergraduate major or graduate field of study: Mathematics, Physics
Subject area(s) and grade level teaching focus: Math, Physics, Astronomy, grades 9-12
Category of scholarship/fellowship:
Name of Noyce institution:
California Polytechnic San Luis Obispo
Current academic or teaching status:
School and school district:
San Luis Obispo
I grew up on a pineapple plantation in Hawaii, practically homeless and very poor; I spent another chunk of my childhood in a motel-turned-apartment complex in the middle of a gang-ridden neighborhood in Kentucky. Hunger and I were good friends, but cold and I were closer. I thank my lucky stars that my family was blessed enough to come out of that situation, but as I’ve grown up and been able to look at the bigger picture of our past, I’ve struggled a lot with guilt. It never made sense to me why my family was given certain opportunities while my plantation and ghetto friends and their families were never given those chances. I came to realize what race meant in our country and that as much as we might try to fight or ignore racism, it’s still very much present. It was obvious to my child self that my skin was lighter than that of my childhood friends; I wasn’t brown like those in Hawaii and I wasn’t black like those in Kentucky, but I always thought I was the strangely colored one in the group and that’s all there was to it. After I moved to a predominantly white town in Iowa, I began to realize that, to the rest of the world, skin pigments meant something other than how much sun block you put on; color suddenly meant good or bad. I was so confused and devastated to find out that I was “white” and that being “good” was the main reason that out of all the hard-working and genuinely good people on the plantation or in our motel, it was MY father being offered opportunities that could change our lives. When we moved to California, I got second and third helpings of my understanding about the relationship between racism and opportunity. I knew that being poor means having nothing but your family, your support system. So I started thinking about the poor children out there, kids who I could have grown up with as friends, who didn’t have healthy family lives. What about them? Where did they go for support? How could they possibly stand to be poor when even hope and love were taken from them? My heart broke, and I knew that I wanted to fight the system that caused such a dichotomy of class and race, and give support to the kids who weren’t given any from their families. So what profession allowed me to give hope, opportunity, and support? I think we all know the answer to that one.
Why do you want to teach:
I believe my background explains why I’m passionate about being a teacher, especially in a high needs area where my past and understanding of poverty, class, and race can be fully put to use, but aside from that, my desire to teach is quite selfish. I’m an addict. My drug is what I’d call the “light-bulb” moment. We all know what it feels like to struggle with an idea, a computation, a concept, and then suddenly there’s this rush of understanding, and the frustration written all over your face transforms into this glorious and calm delight; you understand. And in that moment of enlightenment, you feel like you could conquer the world and solve every problem imaginable; it’s pure bliss! I’ve known this feeling so often and yearn to help students just like me understand. I want them to crave knowledge and feel powerful and confident in their ability to learn and solve problems. I want to help them unlock all the light bulbs tucked away in the corners of their minds, show them how to tidy up the factoids and make them useful. I want to stand witness to at least one light-bulb moment a day, mine or theirs, I care not. All I know is that when I’m not in school, I long to be there, and when I’m not explaining or helping to understand, I don’t feel whole. I was born to ask and answer questions; I’ve found my home in the world of academia, and I refuse to leave!
Describe a memorable teaching experience:
I broke my straight-A streak in high school physics. I got “F”s on the first three tests in that class and was so incredibly confused by it. My formula (Attend class + Pay Attention + Ask questions + Read book + Do homework + Study for hours = “A”!!!) no longer worked. I met with my teacher and asked him what I was doing wrong. He told me, very kindly I might add, that I needed to stop memorizing and start thinking. I was infuriated by the insinuation that I wasn’t good at thinking, but eventually I humbled up and asked him to help me. He didn’t skip a beat as he agreed. I spent every hour before school, every hour at lunch, and every hour after school in this man’s classroom doing practice problems and asking question after question. He had this beautiful and amazing way of getting me to lead myself to the right question and the right answer without ever making me feel stupid for how long it took me to get there. He never simply gave me anything; I worked my tail off for every step I took up that ladder, but he was always right behind me, making sure I didn’t fall off. His utter patience and faith in me instilled a confidence in myself that I never had. Soon, I felt that I could do problems on my own and ask him about them later on if I had questions, so I bought a white erase easel and spent every weekend for a month sitting outside with my physics notebook, textbook, quizzes, and failed tests just working and reworking problems, finding patterns in the process behind certain types of questions, writing formulas and understanding where they came from. It was then that I realized he was absolutely right. I had been a great student who knew how to work really hard to get good grades, but I hadn’t been LEARNING much of anything. I was memorizing and going through the motions, and I could spout out any number of intelligent statements in a cohesive and impressive order, but I’d never really trained my brain to think. That left me with no confidence in my own ability to think and reason. As this teacher helped me uncover the key that unlocked this world of problem solving for me, I became obsessed with the process of learning. I’d seen the difference in me; I’d trained myself to go from a hard working good student to an even harder working good thinker. And when I got solid “A”s on the next four tests in physics, I would stay after class and thank him endlessly for all his work. But he always said, “You can thank me for my patience, but you did all the work yourself. Congratulations on a job very well done.” When I got an “A” in the class, I went to his office and thanked him for giving me the grade he did. Again, he said “I didn’t GIVE you a grade, you EARNED it. I’ve never seen someone work so hard to understand. Congrats!” Since that one comment, I’ve held that motto very dear and to this day I’m obsessed with the process of learning. Mr. Shefler taught math, physics, and astronomy at my high school so I had him for many other classes. He’d already seen me at my worst in physics, but he saw me at my best in calculus; the beauty was that he treated me the same whether I was the bottom or the top of the class. I became interested in absolutely everything he taught because he let his students struggle with things, become creatively frustrated, and then claim all the glory when they figured it out for themselves. It’s no small wonder that I want to teach those very subjects – I had the world’s greatest teacher as my role model! My ultimate goal is to bring to my students what he brought to me: confidence in your own ability to think, reason, and learn. This one man has changed my life forever, and I hope that my students will see even some of the patience, wisdom, and genuine care that this man had for his students reflected in me.
What does the Noyce program mean to you:
As I said before, my family has had more than its share of monetary hardships. My parents work so hard and save as much as they can to help put me and three younger siblings into college, with the understanding that when we’re on our own two feet, we’ll pay them back. I’ve always known that going into education would mean the continuation of my frugal life style, but I like being lower middle class, so on a personal level, I’m fine with it! However, the base income of a teacher isn’t enough to allow me to pay my parents back as quickly as I’d like to be able to. This has always left me feeling incredibly guilty about the potential opportunities I’m taking away from my siblings simply by being in college while they’re in high school and desperately trying to save enough to get into college with tuition going up each year. The money for my school books could have paid for voice lessons for my sister or an extra soccer workshop for my brother. Every time my parents lent me money for my education, my stomach dropped with the fear of how I was going to be able to pay them back in time to help support my siblings’ education and opportunities. Now, with this scholarship, I don’t have to worry about that anymore. Between this incredible program and a few others, I now have enough scholarship money to pay for my entire education by myself. This means that I can pay my parents back this year, which means my brother (a junior in high school) has that much more support for his own education. The guilt has vanished, and I feel so much more comfortable in my choice of profession. I no longer feel like I’m letting my family down because I won’t be making a lot of money. All I have to worry about is me, and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been! Noyce has easily been the biggest blessing of my high school and college years and I hope to live up to the expectations of myself and the program. I’m so incredibly proud to be a part of this program – thank you ever so much for this opportunity and faith in my ability to be a good teacher. It absolutely means the world to me!