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Fellowship Allowing Alumna Heidi Park to Realize Science Teaching Dream
August 17, 2012
By Terri Hughes-Lazzell, Marketing Manager
Heidi Park's path to realizing a dream of becoming a high school
teacher took a road less traveled. She's pursuing a teaching degree
as a Knowles Science Teaching Fellow, and may soon become a science
teacher in the Chicago Public Schools. This came after she earned a
bachelor's degree chemical engineering in 2005 from Rose-Hulman and
a master's degree from Cornell University.
The Knowles Science Teaching Foundation (KSTF) has invested
$175,000 over five years to encourage Park and 33 others in this
complex and challenging profession. She is currently a student
teacher in the Chicago Public Schools and plans to earn her
teaching credentials next spring from the University of
"I hope to help all my students see their potential as
scientists," she says.
As early as third grade, Park knew that she wanted to become a
teacher. Yet when it came to choosing her major in college, she
opted for chemical engineering in the hopes that "it would meld
both my science and math skills." After Rose-Hulman and Cornell,
she wasn't excited about a research career. Instead, her "academic
success was closely tied to the passionate teachers I was fortunate
to have throughout my life."
Park joins graduates of Harvard and Stanford who have left
fledgling careers on Wall Street and academic research to make an
impact in America's classrooms. Knowles Science Teaching Fellows
ensure that high-caliber beginning teachers remain in the
"We cannot improve science, technology, engineering and math
(STEM) education without recruiting and keeping excellent STEM
teachers like Heidi in the profession," states Nicole Gillespie,
KSTF's Director of Teaching Fellowships, in a news release. "She
joins a growing cadre of exceptional KSTF teachers whose knowledge,
commitment, and leadership are transforming math and science
education from the inside."
Nationally, nearly half of all new teachers leave the profession
within the first five years; KSTF maintains a steady teacher
retention rate of 95 percent over the five years of the fellowship.
This comes at a time when the nation's economic well-being is tied
closer than ever to students' success in STEM fields.
"Teacher turnover is a critical problem that's hurting our
students and our communities, and costing taxpayers a great deal of
money," says Gillespie. "Instead of investing in the costly cycle
of constantly hiring and training new teachers, we need to invest
in keeping the best of the best in the teaching profession by
providing them with ongoing support and professional
As a teacher, Park hopes to encourage more young women in the
Chicago Public School System to pursue STEM careers, because young
women tend to "perceive themselves as being less skilled in these
areas." She has volunteered with the Society of Women Engineers and
is currently a volunteer at the Field Museum of Chicago as an
Park's favorite teaching moment is "when a student finally
understands how something works and then excitedly applies that new
knowledge to something else that they know about the world." She
hopes to teach in a multi-ethnic community. "Although teaching
students with a diversity of backgrounds presents its own
challenges, the resulting diversity of ideas in the classroom is
invaluable both for students and me as a teacher," she says.
A part of that process is learning how to teach the material she
knows. "If I just took my degrees in chemical engineering into the
classroom, I don't believe I would be able to teach the students,"
she says. "I need to learn about how students learn. Today, there
is more of a shift to help students and guide them to find the
answers and develop positions. They learn because they do, not from