Keith Sevigny, lover of science, got liftoff last summer for a team of 8th-grade students at Annie Fisher STEM Magnet School in Hartford. The boys landed their tiny science project on whether seeds will germinate in microgravity on the final mission of NASA’s Space Shuttle program in July.
But the launching pad for Sevigny was Neag‘s Teacher Certification Program for College Graduates (TCPCG). After earning his master’s of art in Curriculum and Instruction in 2007, he landed in a dream job teaching science at Annie Fisher STEM Magnet.
And now he’s part of the state’s first K-8 STEM school (STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math) and one of the authors of a unified science curriculum in the large Hartford district.
“A lot of time science goes by the wayside,” Sevigny, 29, says. “But here every kid gets at least one hour of science every single day, no matter the grade level.”
The four designers of the space tomato project – Ramone Clahar, Justice Dawkins, David Jackson and Alonzo Clarke – were interested in whether food could one day be grown in space. Space in space was a precious commodity, but “Dream big,” they were told. And their idea was selected by engineers at Hamilton Sundstrand, which helped sponsor the science project in space program.
So, what did the Annie Fisher team discover by sending those seeds into space on a 5 million-mile round trip on the middeck of the Shuttle Atlantis, with an astronaut doing the watering?
“When a seed germinates on the ground, the shoots go up and the roots go down. But in microgravity, where there’s no sense of up or down, how does the plant know where to go, and does it grow the same way,” Sevigny explains.
The seeds did germinate, but, once back on Earth, they would not take root. Sevigny is trying to round up the team, now moved on to high school, to report back on their findings.
Sevigny loves science and its world-changing promise. So, after getting his bachelor’s degree in molecular and cell biology in 2004 at UConn, he took a job at a pharmaceutical firm, hoping to be part of a breakthrough that would, well, save lives.
“I was working toward this goal of having a drug discovery, but you never really know if you’re going to make it or if it’s going to make it to the people that it’s going to help. So, I wanted to be able to see that I was going to make a difference in people’s lives on a daily basis, and that steered me toward education.”
And now, after the one-year TCPCG whirlwind, Sevigny is getting that daily fix. He credits three Neag educators on the Greater Hartford campus – Michael Alfano, executive director of teacher education programs, John Zack and John Settlage – for the teacher he is today.
Settlage, associate professor in science teacher education, taught him how to engage in scientific inquiry and hold a captive audience. “His class was why I was able to fit so well here at Fisher,” Sevigny says.
Zack, assistant clinical instructor, got Sevigny, who hails from a teacher-rich family, thinking about teaching in the inner city. “There were 50 other teachers from UConn lined up to get a job in Farmington or Avon, but how many are lining up for a job in the inner city? And for a lot of those kids, you’re it,” Sevigny says.
Alfano amazed him in the way he makes the one-year master’s program work. “You’ve got one year when it’s this whole tornado, and he was able to figure out how to orchestrate it and make it seamless,” Sevigny says. “And he’s been doing it for years.”
Alfano’s class on literacy also made Sevigny see that element as every teacher’s mission, and even moral obligation.
Sevigny has seen the STEM magnet’s results, particularly on the Connecticut Mastery Tests that are now measuring science learning.
He loves the daily impact of teaching but also has the long view. “It’s wonderful just thinking where the little kindergartners are going to be by the time they get to 8th grade,” he says.