Major (s): Dual degree student in Secondary Biology Education (UEDC) and Biological Sciences (UCLAS)
Class Standing: Senior
What interests you about your majors?
I came into college on a pre-medicine track and I’ve always had an interest in science. However, when it came time to investigate whether I truly wanted to continue on the track, I realized that it was education I was really interested in. It was much more meaningful to me as a potential career choice. Up until that point, I had several experiences within education without realizing it, and so, those helped to cultivate an interest that I have since perpetuated in other experiences I’ve had.
Can you tell us a little about the thesis you’re working on as an Honors student?
I’m currently doing research with Dr. Jonathan Plucker in the Educational Leadership Department. Last semester, we started a project where we were looking at school accountability systems nationwide. Florida, for example, grades each of their school districts on an A-F scale. We were looking at, for each individual state, the scales and components that are indicators of gifted education. We studied whether these states had a grading component for gifted education such as: advanced placement testing, participation, performance, etc. We gave ourselves a broad survey of what this looks like nationwide and seeing which states have these indicators and which states don’t. Since then, we’ve actually been given funding to do the reverse. We have been funded by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation to create our own grading system for states based on the gifted education program. By looking at actual data and generating a scoring scale from A to F, states can gauge how they are doing with regards to gifted programming and services.
What has your experience been like student teaching at E.O. Smith High School?
Prior to this spring, I had three semesters of official Neag shadowing. During this semester, I have transitioned into a full-time student teacher of three biology classes and one oceanography class. My teacher has a “flipped classroom.” This means that all the content is presented in homework via videos, so we either find videos that other people have done, or make videos of the content that is recorded ourselves. This leaves the entire class period for the students to actually work continuously on labs or assignments. Initially, it was interesting to see in practice because we had learned about it in some of our classes, but we hadn’t been able to see it fully integrated in a classroom. It’s a divergence from what we’ve been accustomed to in our own K-12 schooling and it’s something that I think is trending a little bit more. For me to be able to see that and have a chance to be exposed to that in my student teaching will certainly be a great tool for later professional development. I cannot think of a negative thing to say about my teacher, Jon Swanson, who has worked with me so well and tries to engage the students so deeply and richly in scientific phenomena and biological sciences.
What are some of your responsibilities?
It varies by the day, but I plan my upcoming class activities and homework assignments typically a week or two prior to implementing them into the classroom. All activities are usually posted to our classroom website on the educational platform Moodle, which is similar to UConn’s Blackboard system. I grade and evaluate student progress based on their homework responses and create formative and summative assessments to gauge their learning. I attend all faculty and staff meetings and participate in professional development. Before this semester, I had many of the same responsibilities, only at a smaller scale.
How did you obtain the position?
Essentially all education students are assigned a clinic placement prior to that specific semester, so I was simply assigned to that position. I had indicated a preference in being in the Mansfield school district, but there was no guarantee that I would receive that specific teacher or that specific placement. Prior to this year, I had interned in Mansfield Middle School and East Hartford High School.
What is your favorite part?
I think all teachers, and all of my peers as well, have a favorite subgroup of students, or something that they’re really passionate about. For me, that’s gifted education and high achieving learners. With the research that I am currently conducting here at UConn along with my own experiences as a student, there is a sense of reliability and connection there. In today’s realm of education, we tend to focus on specific groupings of students, but I believe that we should facilitate the learning of all students, including those who are high achieving. I always enjoy engaging those students who are thinking more deeply about something or at a higher level because I see myself in those students and I want to be able to provide them with an engaging learning environment.
What is the most challenging part?
In general, I would say classroom management. This is obviously a symptom of my youth and inexperience. It is not a particular problem during my current placement, but last fall I was placed at East Hartford High School which was a completely different demographic of kids and it was much more difficult to have them focus, stay on task, and also try to manage them all as an entire group. I think that’s something that most individuals in my position would have difficulties with.
What do you find to be most rewarding from this experience?
I would say, more generally, the interaction I have had with teachers. Discussing their viewpoints on specific buzz words and big issues has been really rewarding because you hear one side of a particular issue from your classes, but in practice they might view something completely different. It’s definitely interesting for me to get both sides of that conversation. I also think that their mentoring and the networking that you can do while you’re at these placements is so beneficial. Teachers do talk to each other, they do go outside their districts and to be able to introduce yourself to specific biology teachers, department heads, principals and other administrators from one district can help you in finding a job there after even if it’s in a totally different district.
What are some of the things you’ve needed to do in order to become/prepare for being a student teacher?
Last semester itself was a preparation because I was actually interning in the same classrooms that I’m student teaching in, so I was able to get accustomed to the students, the flow of the classroom, how the teacher manages the classroom, how I would be expected to manage the classroom, some of the norms of the building and some of the other professional obligations, like their professional learning community meetings for example, and just some of the more interesting aspects of E.O. Smith and their demographics. A lot of the students there are children of UConn faculty and staff, but you also have people who live in Ashford or Willington, there’s a very different subculture there, so it’s definitely prepared me as far as introducing me to those sorts of variables. Last semester I took a class, “Methods of Science Teaching,” and so, it was my first class of actually being exposed to how we should be teaching science specifically. I got to do unit planning, lesson planning, and peer teaching to prepare me for actually doing these things this semester.
Furthermore, during the summer and winter intersessions this year, I interned for the Connecticut Invention Convention, which holds an invention fair every May here at UConn, which is open to all participating schools from Connecticut and greater New England. I was tasked with writing and standardizing all of their instructional materials that they provide their participating teachers and administrators so that they can incorporate invention concepts into their classes. I created lesson plans, worksheets, rubrics, and other resources. The experience of creating these resources has facilitated my own transition as a teacher, when I have to create my own activities and resources for my classes.
Can you describe your role as President of the UConn Honors Council?
I essentially represent the Honors Council as a liaison between the Honors Program student body and the faculty and staff of the Honors Program, as well as USG and the Student Activities office. I’m the figurehead that has to remain accountable to all of these organizations. We have a pretty broad collection of executive board members and appointee positions, so I have to manage all of them. Essentially I run and chair all of the weekly board meetings and general meetings, and I try to disperse some of the responsibilities to other officers as it pertains to their specific positions. I meet with the advisors once a week and we work through some of the issues that have popped up, or upcoming events that still need planning and just make sure the whole organization runs smoothly. It’s a fairly large organization, we were at about 65-70 students last fall, but usually at the beginning of the semester we have around 100 or so students. We essentially try to serve as an advocacy group for the Honors Program so the students can come to us with their concerns or ideas for improving the Honors Program. We then create new events or initiatives to enact those suggestions on a grander scale. We also work with other student organizations with the same mission.
How has this role helped you in achieving your academic/career goals?
My whole role in the Honors Program is really complex. I originally started off my sophomore year as a First Year Experience facilitator, then I applied to be a trainer for the next class of facilitators and from that role I got recommended to work in the Honors office in Buckley, meanwhile applying to be an officer on the Honors Council. Essentially my advisors for the Honors Council are the same ones I’m working under for my job in the Honors office, so I can take a lot of what we’re doing in the Honors Council and apply that to my desk staff job. So, if we need flyers printed or we have publicity that we need to do, I can feel free to add it to a certain spreadsheet, or make a flyer, or something like that.
I definitely believe that serving as a president has improved my leadership techniques. There are few times in life where we truly have the opportunity to enact our own vision on an organization and try to implement it. It’s such an important skill that we don’t really just have or develop, but as a teacher, you’re going to have to do that. You’re going to have to work with your peers, department heads, faculty and staff from your school, and colleagues from other parts of the country for planning, developing, and making sure that you all have a broad vision and that you’re able to enact that vision. It’s a skill you can only learn through hands on experience. Through Honors Council, the group plans large-scale events which start from this broad vision that over time is adjusted based on logistics and general interest.
How do you find the time to manage everything?
I view my own priorities as an upside down triangle, similar to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. . I need to have fulfilled the bottom bar of the triangle before moving up and succeeding at the other levels. I always prioritize academics first, that has been my mission from day 1 of college. If my academic commitments are not met, I don’t feel comfortable moving on to anything else. Obviously with student teaching, I have an obligation to my students and fellow teachers to complete my work and remain responsive to their needs. I personally feel like when you take on additional responsibilities, you have to anticipate the worst-case scenario as far as workload and if you can’t handle that worst-case, then you should not refrain from saying no and it’s okay to say no. Over the course of my 4 years I’ve definitely developed time management techniques, but I will say that sometimes things pop up and you won’t have enough time to do something, but it’s all about trying to minimize that risk the best you can. I work ahead. If something needs to be done by next week, I have it done a week before it’s due so that if something does pop up last minute I do not worry about it not getting done.
Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?
Next year I’ll be enrolled in the Master’s Program here. Hopefully I’ll graduate from that in May 2016 with all of the certification requirements for becoming a teacher, I will have passed the Praxis 2 exams for biology, chemistry, and general science, and I will apply to become a teacher. So in five years I hope to have 2 or 3 years of teaching experience. I’m not quite sure which teaching environment I prefer yet, but I believe that each school system has a distinct ecosystem of faculty, administration, and students. As I gain experience, I will learn more about my own beliefs and preferences for these systems.
What has been your favorite part about being a student at UConn?
I think the best part for me has been the Honors Program, but you could probably expand that to any learning community in principle because it takes this large student body and brings it to a more manageable and approachable amount of students for you to get to know, live around, and take classes with. For me as an Honors student with my freshman year in Buckley, you get to know so many people in that dorm that you’ll form friendships with for the rest of your four years here. It’s definitely been the best and most gratifying part for me because it is so much a part of who I am now and what the Honors Program has done for me both professionally and personally.
Through my time here, I have also become involved in the Center for Hellenic Studies, which is located behind Storrs Center on Dog Lane. I have attended their Greek club and taken a class in Modern Greek, with the opportunity of studying abroad this upcoming summer. This center is incredibly unique in the programs that it offers students, especially those of Greek ethnicity. Many colleges offer Ancient Greek classes, but I am interested in the modern language—the same language that my mother and grandparents had been exposed to.
Can you give any advice to your fellow UConn students?
I touched on this before, but it is always okay to say no and refrain from taking on commitments. I think as students in a competitive environment, we are always driven to say yes and to be ambitious, but none of that means anything if you can’t execute your responsibilities. So definitely pick and choose where you want to devote your time.