Woodrow Wilson Fellow Thrives By Helping At-Risk Students

Amy Gunderman

Amy Gunderman Strives to Be a Part of Their Life ‘Stories’

Amy Gunderman, CECH alumna and 2011-2012 Woodrow Wilson Ohio Teaching Fellow, recently returned from the National Science Conference in Boston, where she collaborated with leading science educators and fellow teachers and learned the latest in science content, teaching strategy, and research. We sat down with Amy to learn more about the opportunities her Woodrow Wilson Fellowship has afforded her and how the program has shaped her career and helped her make a difference in the lives of “at-risk” students.

Q: When did you become interested in the teaching profession and what is your academic background?

A: I first became interested in teaching in the fall of my junior year of college through my involvement in a variety of different tutoring programs in inner city Cleveland. I graduated from John Carroll University with my Bachelors of Science in Biology and a self-designed minor in Social Justice. As a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, I completed my Masters at the University of Cincinnati in Secondary Curriculum and Instruction, while earning my teaching certification for Ohio Adolescent to Young Adult Life Sciences. I then participated in Physics by Inquiry, a physics-based summer program for teachers at the University of Cincinnati, and completed the remaining requirements for certification in Ohio Adolescent to Young Adult Integrated Science (September 2012).

Q: What is the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship?

A: My Woodrow Wilson Fellowship includes admission to a master's degree program at a well-established partner university (i.e., UC), teacher licensure in a STEM field (science, technology, engineering, or math), extensive preparation for teaching in a high-need urban or rural secondary school for one full year prior to becoming the teacher-of-record in a science or math classroom, and a $30,000 stipend to cover tuition and living expenses during the first year of the student teaching internship. As a Fellow, I also have and continue to receive support and mentoring throughout my three-year teaching commitment, support of a cohort of WW Fellows passionate about science and math education, and lifelong membership in a national network of Woodrow Wilson Fellows who are intellectual leaders.

Q: How has the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship impacted your studies and career preparation?

A: The Woodrow Wilson Fellowship has not only provided me with continuous support in the form of mentoring and resources over the past two years, but also it has served as a great network of fellow teachers who are experiencing similar challenges and can offer practical and applicable advice and suggestions. My Woodrow Wilson Mentor maintains close contact via email, texts, and classroom visits. He also keeps me well informed of various professional development opportunities that I am eligible for and assists me with their applications as much as possible. Just this past fall, I applied for and was accepted into the NSTA New Science Teacher Academy. This professional development program was created to help promote quality science teaching, enhance teacher confidence and classroom excellence, and improve teacher content knowledge. During the past six months of my involvement with this program, I have grown immensely as a new teacher.

Amy Gunderman

Gunderman at National Science Conference in Boston

Q: You’ve completed the 15-month master’s program and are now teaching in a high-needs school district in Cincinnati. What are your plans once your teaching commitment is fulfilled?

A: I am currently in the end of my second pay-back year of teaching, and I have one more year left in a high-needs school district. After my third pay-back year of teaching, I can teach in any school district, regardless of the district’s financial level. However, having spent a full year as a Student Teaching Intern in a large, inner-city public high school and two years teaching in a small high-needs village district, I have grown to love the students who are often referred to as “at-risk” and viewed as unlikely to graduate from high school. For many of these students, life has not been easy and education is their second chance at leveling the playing field. I want to continue to be a part of their story.

Q: What makes you passionate about science and being a teacher?

A: As a teacher, not only do I get to teach, but I also get to continue to learn. I learn everyday from my students in the classroom, my fellow teachers, and my administrators. But I also learn the most current science and engineering ideas and concepts from different professional development opportunities that I am currently involved with, most brought to my attention through my Woodrow Wilson Fellowship.

I used to think that the greatest goal and challenge of teaching would be to help the students remember all of the scientific knowledge and facts after they graduate. However, in just my first two years of teaching, I have come to realize that the greatest goal is helping students discover for themselves how to ask questions, reason, and think like scientists and engineers. Developing the skills of scientific reasoning and the engineering skills of problem solving will be huge assets to students in any future career.