Like many students choosing a university, Rachel Witt ’19 knew she wanted a strong science program, but she didn’t have a clear idea of what she wanted to do with her life.
“Stony Brook seemed like the perfect place for me, especially with its variety of research opportunities, academic programs, organizations and influential faculty,” Rachel said.
Rachel soon realized that her love for science could be combined with an aptitude for teaching.
“Before enrolling at Stony Brook, I knew that they offered an education program, but I did not know much about it,” said the University Scholar, who has since entered the five-year combined program toward earning a Bachelor of Science as well as a Master of Arts in Teaching Biology. She’s also planning to earn a second teaching certification in chemistry.
The Secondary Education Program at Stony Brook, led by Linda Padwa, PhD, associate director of the Science Teacher Preparation Program within the Institute of STEM Education, prepares candidates for certification to teach science in grades 7—12, and by taking additional classes that are offered, that certification can be extended for grades 5 and 6.
Other science education certifications offered at Stony Brook include chemistry, earth science and physics. All of these programs are offered through the College of Arts and Sciences, the Graduate School and the School of Professional Development.
Rachel recognized the benefits of learning another language early on and took seven years of Spanish during middle and high school. This experience enabled her to speak that language conversationally, and also proved to be a valuable skill as she looks to her career ahead.
“Diversity in schools is growing rapidly in the U.S., so it’s increasingly important to be able to understand the culturally diverse backgrounds of students,” she said. “If students are learning English along with science content, it can be more difficult to pick up the material, so knowing another language can help me communicate with my students and make it easier for them to understand the content I will be teaching.
Rachel’s concentration for her Bachelor of Science is in interdisciplinary biology, meaning that she has taken courses in each of the four areas designated by the University: (1) biochemistry, molecular and cellular Biology, (2) neurobiology and physiology, (3) organisms, and (4) ecology and evolution.
“By learning a little bit about each area of biology, I’ll be better prepared to teach the full curriculum when I become a high school teacher,” she said.
Rachel works closely with her advisor, Zuzana Zachar, PhD, director of the MAT Biology Program, who teaches some of the graduate biology classes that are part of the program and is a researcher in the Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology. This semester Rachel is taking Science Teaching Methods I, where she’s learning techniques for effective teaching and lesson planning, along with a field experience component that gives her the opportunity to observe in schools and interact with secondary school students through a variety of programs.
Looking back on her experience, Rachel has sound advice for freshmen who feel overwhelmed and pressured to make quick choices about their academic path: take it one course, one experience, and one semester at a time.
“When I came to Stony Brook, I was studying biology. I thought about medical school, but after an internship at NYU Langone Health, I realized that the hospital setting wasn’t for me,” she said. “Since I am also a research assistant, I knew from that experience that I couldn’t see myself doing research as my career.
“But my love of science, especially biology, has always remained strong, so I decided that being a high school teacher would allow me to take my passion and use it to inspire young students. I was especially inspired by my high school biology teacher, and I know that I want to be that person for future generations of aspiring scientists.”
Rachel has also become a teaching assistant for BIO 202 here at Stony Brook.
“I particularly enjoyed this experience because it was directly related to being a teacher,” she said. “I was able to guide student inquiry, lead students in the right direction about certain concepts, and clear up misunderstandings and questions students had about the class material.
“Thinking back, all of the experiences I have had so far throughout my college career have contributed in their own way to preparing me to be a future educator. Helping other people is something that I have always enjoyed, which is a main reason for my career choice as a teacher.”
— Glenn Jochum