This year’s graduating Neag School of Education’s Robert Noyce scholars of the Teacher Certification Program for College Graduates (TCPCG) come from particularly diverse backgrounds, yet have all found a common thread weaving together their current professional lives and future: a passion to teach in the STEM fields of either science or mathematics.
The student diversity in degrees and personal experiences vary, including previous positions ranging from a consumer food industry chemist to a transportation design engineer. TCPCG was ideal for each individual, in their own way, as a one-year accelerated M.A. in Education program designed for non-traditional students out of UConn’s Greater Hartford and Waterbury campuses.
“As career changers, they bring real-world, industry-related experience into their classrooms. At the secondary level, this is noteworthy as many young people at this age are beginning to focus on vocational choices,” said Michael Alfano, director of the TCPCG program. “By having experience working in a related field, TCPCG graduates bring something ‘extra’ to the table.”
Each member of the graduating class of 19 was provided a $15,000 scholarship, funded by a $900,000 grant through the National Science Foundation. In turn for the endowment, recipients are required to complete two years of teaching in a high-needs Connecticut school district for each year of support.
“I want to have a more profound impact on my community. I was so disappointed to hear President Obama quote assessments stating that American 15-year-olds rank 21st in science when compared to their global peers. I felt a personal vocation to help change these numbers and what these numbers represent by inspiring passion for science and scientific careers in today’s youth,” said Megan Hurley, who in May earned her Initial Educators Certification in chemistry for grades 7 through 12.
Hurley decided to pursue a profession in education after a successful career in the consumer goods industry, as a patent-holding formulation scientist at Unilever Home & Personal Care. After Unilever moved its headquarters out of state, she accepted a brand manager position at Hasbro games, which is where she “realized the importance of laughter, play and family support in the development of each child.”
“I feel a personal sense of reward when I see students grow and flourish in their skills and confidence,” said Hurley. “For example, I believe there are many ways for students to demonstrate understanding, so I often added creative summative assessments in addition to traditional chapter tests. I believe offering creative outlets helped many students master the content, demonstrate their knowledge and garner a sense of confidence in their ability to learn chemistry.”
Maureen Ringrose, another Noyce Scholar who will be going into mathematics education, decided to become an educator after getting involved in school activities with her children and facing the challenges of raising a child with a disability.
In 2007, Ringrose gave birth to her second child, Penny, who was born with Down syndrome and needed life-saving surgery for a serious heart defect just six days after being born. It was not until Penny was almost a month old that Ringrose was able to bond with her baby.
“I learned that in most ways she was just like any other baby and that she would reach all the same milestones, it would just take her longer to get there,” Ringrose said.
Ringrose knew that going into education was a good fit for her because she liked helping children succeed. She tutored a lot throughout school, was the Cub Scout leader for her son’s den and saw this opportunity as a way to help Penny.
“I thought that I could be a better advocate for Penny if I knew the other side of things,” Ringrose said.
Although terrified to go back to school after years of working in the insurance industry, Ringrose now encourages anyone contemplating going back to school for education to go through this program.
“It was difficult to keep up but I found that the instructors really cared about my success,” Ringrose said. “I would get overwhelmed when I first read a syllabus, but as the weeks moved on, the assignments were so well organized and laid out that everything was doable.”
Lorna Carrasquillo, another Noyce Scholar who will be teaching chemistry post-graduation, believes that her personal experience in education provided the fundamentals for her identity as an educator. At a young age, Carrasquillo was acutely aware of the stigma often attached to diverse learners in public education as an English language learner, the product of a dual-immersion program, an ESL program and special education. In addition, she was susceptible to petit-mal seizures.
Despite the obstacles, Carrasquillo persevered and attributes her success to those teachers who capitalized on her differences for overall learning. Her personal struggles helped Carrasquillo to believe that all students can learn and do so differently. Although she originally saw herself with a Ph.D. in chemistry, pursuing a career in chemical research, Carrasquillo changed her mind after tutoring chemistry and calculus as an undergraduate at UConn.
Similar to her TCPCG peers, Carrasquillo found it rewarding to witness student progress and to see overall confidence increase when grasping new materials. Carrasquillo, like the educators that helped her through what many consider to be immeasurable odds, promises to never give up on her students’ ability to learn and achieve.
For more information on the Robert Noyce Scholarship or TCPCG, please visit the Neag School of Education’s website at http://www.education.uconn.edu/. Click here to read a previous story on the Noyce Scholars.