New horizons 'STEM' from Woodburn
Denise Aquino of Molalla didn't think much about teaching growing up, though she had a knack for science, and research did appeal to her.
A few college experiences mixed with some cultural reflection changed all that, and next fall she will be a science teacher in her home town.
Aquino's story illustrates how local programs such as Pacific University's College of Education at the Woodburn Campus can transform lives.
The school recently received a boost in that quest; Pacific announced that its science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs at the Woodburn campus has been awarded a $1.4 million grant through the National Science Foundation, designated to bolster its STEM's teaching licensure program.
That program promotes k-12 student participation and success in STEM education in part via creating community-based teacher pathways, according to Woodburn Campus program director and education professor Kevin Carr. As a consequence, more doors open to career opportunities in relatively high-paying STEM fields.
Carr stressed that Woodburn School District an Chemeketa Community College are key partners in the STEM project.
School officials noted that the NSF grant is part of its Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program. It provides direct support for students in Pacific University's STEM Teacher Pathways program, which offers students a master of arts in teaching that combines endorsements in middle and high-school science and math, as well as English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL).
The $1.4 million grant will support 60 additional Pacific Noyce Scholars over the next five years, awarding each up to $25,000 to lower the cost of becoming a teacher.
"The program will provide the resources and support needed to expand access to rural Oregon, where many science and math teachers are in need of teacher licensure," Carr said.
Pacific's STEM Teacher Pathways program has received two previous NSF grants, and the program has produced more than 80 high-school math and science teachers since 2011, boasting a 95-percent employment success rate for graduates following completion.
Aquino is among those successful teaching candidates. She will graduate this month with her MAT in STEM/ESOL from the Woodburn-based program.
Aquino earned her bachelor's degree in biology from Pacific in 2018. She initially planned to be a researcher, but while volunteering she recognized the need for more Latina science experts in the classroom.
"I never really thought about being a teacher until my last two years as an undergrad," Aquino said. "I applied to be a STEM instructor for the Girl Scouts Puentes program. So, they collaborate with the migrant program to hire STEM instructors to create and lead activities having girls in particular be more exposed to it.
"When I was an undergrad I realized there wasn't enough representation in the biology department," Aquino added. "So I was one of the very few Latinos in particular."
That inspired her to apply to the Pacific University graduate program in Woodburn.
"I like how in the program they just throw us out there with a mentor who can be compatible with us," Aquino said.
"I see myself as a teacher who learns from her students, whether that be through grading their work or talking with them or asking them for feedback as well," she said. "Also, I a type of community in the classroom; I want there to be trust."
Aquino has been offered a job to teach middle-school science in her home community of Molalla.
"I am very excited – I get to go back to my community," she enthused.
Carr noted that by combining the Noyce Scholarship with support through the Pacific Scholarships in Mathematics and Sciences (PSiMS) program, a current community college student could receive more than $32,000 during their college years to become a STEM teacher.
Applications are now open to become a Pacific Noyce Scholar and start becoming a STEM teacher as soon as June 24, 2019.