Wednesday, October 12, 2016

By Mikaela Parrick

When Michaela Just entered the University of Iowa as a freshman, all she knew was that she wanted to pursue a career geared towards the sciences.

Through her involvement on campus as a Residence Hall Assistant, she built up a passion for community building, aiding new members of the University in their college transitions, working with others as a team, and getting to know young adults on a more personal level.

“It just happened to work well in my favor that I was able to take two of the things I am passionate about (science and working with young adults) and put that into one college path that is science education,” she says.

“I applied for the Noyce scholarship because I wanted to challenge myself in my profession, apply my education to a classroom where it is really needed, and submerge myself in a classroom that will help me grow as a teacher,” she says.

Just is one of three students awarded the first-ever Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship program at the University of Iowa, along with Kyle Kerger and Magdaly Santos-Villalobos.

The scholarship, funded by the National Science Foundation, provides $12,000 per year in support for up to three years for students preparing to be secondary science teachers through either the Masters in Science Teaching (MAT) program or the “4+1” program (BA/MAT), which have a combined total of 20 students.

The $1.4 million dollar NSF grant, titled “Encouraging Students to Become Secondary STEM Teachers in Eastern Iowa” will provide 30-40 scholarships over the next 5 years.

The grant principal investigator is Nicole Becker, assistant professor in chemistry in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Co-principal investigators are Ted Neal, a clinical instructor, and Mark McDermott, a clinical associate professor, both in the Science Education Program in the UI College of Education.

“This scholarship encourages students to join the teacher workforce because of the shortage of teachers in the U.S., especially for schools and districts in need of assistance” says Neal.

“Noyce Scholarship recipients agree to work at a school with students who need them the most.”

An Iowa City native, Just is interested in teaching environmental sciences, earth sciences, biology and chemistry.

“The scholarship comes with the commitment to teach in a high-needs school, or a school where many of the students are identified as lower income or impoverished. Many of these students don't have a voice in the education system and are often just passed along through the system,” she says.

“I personally believe that with the education I am receiving at the University of Iowa and my passion for helping students discover their potential, I will be able to be the voice for these students.”

Kerger, of Ankeny, Iowa, came to the University of Iowa with a passion for music, but soon realized that the performance aspect wasn’t for him. Instead, he wanted to teach biology, chemistry and physics.

“For me this scholarship is an incredible opportunity to make me into the best teacher I can possibly be,” he says. 

“I believe that everyone deserves the best education this country can provide, and I find it an embarrassing flaw that some would not be given the same opportunity due to where they live or their economic status. This scholarship represents the selection committee's belief in my ability to be a part of the solution to this issue and for that I am incredibly grateful,” he adds.

“I know that I will not be the next great doctor or Nobel Prize winner, but one of the students sitting in my class will be.”

Santos-Villalobos was born and raised in Puerto Rico, where she graduated from the University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez Campus as an electrical engineer in 2001. She then graduated from Central Michigan University with a Master’s Degree in International Administration in 2003 before moving to Cedar Rapids in 2015 with her husband and four children.

She is interested in teaching physics.

“After many years as an engineer my husband encouraged me to follow my passion, so I decided to become a teacher. I felt that it was time to give back to my community and be an agent of change, a model for our youth,” Santos-Villalobos says.

“I believe that my experience as an engineer and my burning desire for teaching and continuous learning are a great match for a career in STEM Education,” she adds.

Santos-Villalobos says the Noyce scholarship is a double blessing for her.

“First for the obvious economic reason, but most importantly because it opens the doors to act upon the commitment to impact the youth where it is most needed,” she says.

“Behind every great thinker, inventor, entertainer, there is a teacher.”

Science Education program.