The first group of Oklahoma State University students to complete the OSUTeach program are heading into the workforce, ready and willing to shape young minds along with expanding the scope of science and mathematics.
After spending the past four to five years in the program, this inaugural class of 13 students crossed the graduation stage in May 2018. They are now headed to different career paths, whether teaching science to middle school students, continuing on to medical school or working as industry professionals.
And the OSUTeach program — the only one of its kind in Oklahoma — played a pivotal role in preparing those students for their careers.
“Over the course of my college career, I gained experiences in a variety of settings that provided insight as I prepared to find a job after college,” said Maggie Pearce, an OSUTeach graduate with a bachelor’s degree in biology.
Given the name of the program, many incorrectly assume it is strictly for students interested in becoming teachers. But the main goal of the program is to increase awareness of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) areas and the teaching opportunities available.
“I was able to partake in numerous field experiences, partake in authentic research, present at a national conference for biology teachers, develop an understanding of pedagogy, and be mentored by master teachers, along with so much more,” Pearce said.
OSUTeach even serves as a guide for many students deciding on a major or career path. For Laurianne Fisher, an OSUTeach graduate in chemistry, the program helped solve that problem and gave her a variety of options after graduation.
“I came into orientation with the desire to be a chemical engineer but that quickly changed, and I spent my entire freshman year in the LASSO program with no declared major,” she said. “This program helped me decide that while teaching may not be the career I want immediately after graduation, it is something I want to do at some point. I loved learning how to become an exceptional educator while also gaining a strong background in chemistry.”
The program at OSU, which is a partnership between the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Education, Health and Aviation, follows the UTeach model developed at the University of Texas.
This partnership between the two colleges offers students a degree in science or math and a full teaching certification — without added time or cost.
“For me, as someone who was strongly considering pursuing something other than teaching after graduation, this program was amazing at helping me prepare for my future,” Fisher said. “With the OSUTeach program, I was getting a chemistry degree along with my education certification, which means that I was able to spend more time learning about various areas of the chemistry profession.”
According to the UTeach Institute, students in the program are more likely to continue teaching after their first year than others, which could lead to more qualified teachers staying in Oklahoma. Sixty-six percent of the inaugural OSUTeach graduates are teaching science and mathematics in Oklahoma.
“Because our students are so prepared in their content, they’re not struggling to keep up with both content and classroom management,” said Dr. Caitlin Barnes, who resigned as coordinator of OSUTeach in July to become an instructional designer in CAS. “They can just focus on how to make the class effective.”
OSUTeach graduates have access to its resources after they leave campus through an induction year program, which provides support and professional development through their first year of teaching.
“Through the induction year program, I will have mentors who provide feedback and insight as I navigate the joys and trials of my first year of teaching,” said Pearce, who will be teaching seventh-grade science at Oklahoma Christian School in Edmond.
“I am currently going through the long job-search process, and through my discussions with employers I have learned how marketable someone with an education background is in career fields outside of education,” said Fisher, who is pursuing a chemistry career. “This program helped me learn how to communicate with people in an effective manner and how to explain concepts in multiple ways.”
Another distinguishing factor is that OSUTeach allows students to begin teaching as early as their first semester, which was perfect for Pearce.
“Once I decided to join the OSUTeach program, I was given countless opportunities to observe and teach in the field,” she said. “Starting from the first semester, I was immersed in teaching as I taught a class of fourth-graders three math and science lessons. In this first experience, I confirmed that the teaching field was the perfect fit.”
Most of all, the program creates a sense of community and family between future teachers and faculty at OSU. Students or advisers asked about the OSUTeach program often pause and reflect, looking for just the right words to convey how special it is to them.
“This first group of graduates — not only is it impressive that they made it through the whole program, but also they have grown so much as people,” Barnes said, a tear in her eye and her face beaming with pride. “From coming in as freshmen to the people they are now, the changes I’ve seen are so amazing.”