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Interview with Noyce Scholar Margarita Velasco

April 14, 2011

Category: A Closer Look

Here is the transcript of the  podcast interview with Noyce Scholar Margarita Velasco (March 2011). For the full story, Science & the CSU takes “A Closer Look” here:

Transcript (5:08)

Jennifer Wicks:

Hello. This is Jennifer Wicks with the California State University on “Science and the CSU.”

I’m here with Margarita Velasco, on the line with me today, who graduated last fall with a biology degree at Cal State Long Beach. She has plans to become a high school science teacher. Thanks to the Robert Noyce Scholarship Program, she’s already well on her way. Right now, in fact, she’s taking timeout from student-teaching three biology classes at Pioneer High School in Whittier.

Welcome, Margarita. Thank you for joining us.

Margarita Velasco:

Hi. Happy to be here today.


Well, first, I’d like to give our listeners just a quick sense of the Noyce Scholars Program. It was created and funded by the National Science Foundation; and it encourages talented majors and professionals in science, technology, engineering and math to become math and science teachers in high-needs K-12 schools.

In more than two dozen programs at 17 different CSU campuses, Noyce scholars – like Margarita – receive training, stipends and other support to help them make the move to become a science teacher.

So, Margarita, when did you first become fascinated with science?


You know, actually, even before elementary school, I was just outside in the yard collecting insects and watching them. So when I was in elementary school, they noticed that I was fascinated with science. And they actually had this program that they placed all the students they saw who were interested in science into one classroom.

And we did projects on science. So, if you wrote any journal entries, it was always on science; and our math revolved around science. And ever since then there’s never been any other option for me.


When was it that you decided to become a science teacher?


I wanted to become a science teacher – it’s always been in the back of my mind. And a few years ago I was actually going to graduate with my biology degree. And I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do with it. So I went to see a counselor at Cal State Long Beach, at the SAS (Student Access to Science and Mathematics) Center, and he asked me a few questions. He asked, you know, about my background and what I would like to do.

And one of the things that he suggested was to become a science teacher. And as soon as he said that, I said, “That’s perfect. That’s exactly what I wanted to do.”


How does the Noyce Scholars Program help prepare you for a career as a science teacher?


By the actual requirements of the Noyce Scholarship, we have to tutor in a high school for 20 hours a week, so this gives us a chance to get to know the students, to get to the know the school that we’re going to be working in. We get to find out different techniques that we get to use with the students. Not only that, but we get to work with our master teachers, and we work one-on-one with them. We get to talk to them, observe them, and figure out things for the future, when we actually do our student-teaching.


Now that you’re in your semester of student-teaching, you’re teaching mostly ninth graders – two biology classes with 40 students each and an honors biology class with 46 students – what has been the biggest surprise for you about the experience?


The biggest surprise has to be the students themselves. You are told one thing. You’re told that they’re high-need students, and supposedly maybe it’s not the best school. But when you come to this school, the students are great. They want to learn. They really do. You kind of go into stereotypes, maybe, that you’ve heard…and actually you find out that they’re the complete opposite. These students really do want to learn. They’re here after school sometimes, and during tutorial they’re just asking questions. They want to get their work done. They want to pass the class. And they’re the greatest students that I could ever think of.


Sounds like you’re finding it really rewarding, too.


It really is. It really is.


Do you have any advice to offer any biology majors who may be considering a career as a science teacher?


I would definitely suggest that the students do become teachers, just because it is the most rewarding career I can think of. And definitely go for the Noyce Scholarship. It really helps you to practice some of these things you’re actually learning in your classes. Not only that, it really does help you in your student-teaching; and later on in your teaching career.


What do you hope to find on the horizon when you finish the Noyce program?


After I complete the Noyce program, I really do hope to find a job. Right now jobs seem a little scarce, but there are always jobs in science and math. So, hopefully I will get a job within the year; and, other than that, I’m just going to do my teaching.


Well, with California facing an increasing shortage of science and math teachers in the coming decade, it’s really reassuring to see you and other Noyce Scholars prepared to meet that challenge.

So thank you very much, Margarita. Thanks for joining us.


Thanks for having me.

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