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Davis, California

Thursday, May 16, 2024

STEM Majors teach the next generation

A UC Davis program helps STEM majors become K-12 Teachers

While some UC Davis students who earn technical degrees in majors such as physics or computer science go on to become engineers and scientists, others decide to pursue careers in education. Some STEM majors decide to become K-12 teachers, and a program called CalTeach Mathematics and Science Teaching Program helps support their ambitions.  

CalTeach/MAST is designed to expose UC Davis STEM students to the K-12 teacher career path. The program offers courses where interested students can learn about teaching and volunteer in local math or science classrooms. In addition, the intern hours students earn through the program can help them get into a teaching credential program after graduation.

CalTeach/MAST is organized by the Department of Earth and Planetary Science and is focused on helping students who are completing STEM degrees. The program is also open to non-STEM students, who can speak with the administrators. Students can get involved by enrolling in the beginner GEL EDU 81 course.

The program has helped many former UC Davis students decide on their career paths. Elizabeth Broughton is a high school math teacher who graduated from UC Davis in 2015 with a major in psychology and a minor in mathematics. According to Broughton, she knew she wanted to be a teacher but did not consider teaching math because she had a bad experience with the subject in high school. However, after getting involved in the CalTeach/MAST program as a freshman, she changed her mind.

“They were showing me a different way of teaching math that was not the way I learned in high school,” Broughton said. “They were showing that math could be really fun and interesting if you teach it in a particular way, and I wanted to be that kind of teacher.”

Although Broughton knew she wanted to be a teacher when she came to college, many students enroll in CalTeach/MAST while they are still unsure of their career path. According to Sandy Carlson, the faculty director of the program, that is one of the great advantages of CalTeach/MAST.

“It’s a service for students to be able to explore something that may not have been on their radar initially in terms of a career, without any strings attached,” Carlson said.

Many students choose to take CalTeach/MAST courses so they can do meaningful volunteer work in the community.

“It’s a really great way for students to experience more than just the university while they are here” said Carlson.

The program is especially important in elementary schools. Many elementary school teachers do not have a background in science or technology, so the CalTeach/MAST interns bring a lot of valuable knowledge to the classrooms they help. According to Susan Pinter, the CalTeach Academic coordinator and lecturer, the student interns are in high demand. Last year they helped 171 teachers in the area.

“The elementary school teachers really love our students,” Pinter said. “Every year they come and ask, ‘Can you please put me on the list again?’”

Beyond providing direct service to the local community, CalTeach/MAST also produces desperately needed K-12 science and math teachers for California. The UC Davis program is part of a larger statewide effort that began in 2005 to address the massive shortage in math and science teachers.

In addition to producing a greater number of math and science teachers, CalTeach/MAST produces quality math and science teachers. UC Davis degrees in math and science give CalTeach/MAST alumni strong background knowledge in the subject matter they teach.

Jeffrey Harvey is a CalTeach/MAST alumni who is currently earning his teaching credential through the school of education at UC Davis while teaching high school science classes. Harvey came to UC Davis to get a Ph.D. in physics, but after his experiences as a teaching assistant, he decided that his calling was teaching. According to Harvey, his advanced degree is helpful in his classroom.

“I think that the more depth you have in that knowledge the better job you can do in turning students on to that topic,” Harvey said. “That’s what gives you flexibility to be creative in the classroom. You have to have that depth to draw from.”

According to Harvey, he could have made more money in the business world with his degree, but he likes the direct impact he has as a teacher.

“I’d get paid more doing something else, but for me, I think teaching is an amazing opportunity to make an impact,” Harvey said. “It’s a great place for people with higher degrees to end up because you get to expose one hundred human beings every year to your science knowledge. It’s kind of like a knowledge multiplier; that’s how I imagine it.”

When The California Aggie interviewed Harvey, he was excitedly preparing a demonstration of angular momentum for his A.P. Physics class.

“That blew my mind when I was a kid, and I’m super excited to be the guy to show somebody that for the first time.”

Written by: Peter Smith — science@theaggie.org


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