August 18, 2016

Three Penn GSE teaching alumni selected for prestigious Knowles Science Teaching Foundation fellowships

Three Penn GSE alumni were chosen by the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation to become Teaching Fellows for the 2016 cohort. Jesse Braxton, Erika Mitkus, and Ashley Smith were selected for these highly competitive Teaching Fellowships, which provide support and professional development for early-career, high school mathematics and science teachers.

“I am delighted that our graduates have been honored this way,” said Penn GSE Dean Pam Grossman. “These fellowships recognize their personal commitment to serving young people through math and science education.”

Jesse Braxton
 Jesse Braxton, who received a Master of Science in Education from Penn GSE in 2016, said he is “excited to be a part of a community of dynamic educators who are dedicating themselves to improving STEM education” in the United States.

Committed to teaching high school chemistry, Jesse believes the support and professional development the KSTF Teaching Fellowship offers will advance his “ability to lead lessons that go beyond content coverage,” and allow him to “provide students with opportunities to think deeply, make sense of the world around them, and act powerfully to pursue their goals in life.” He will begin his first year of teaching chemistry at The Workshop School in Philadelphia.

Erika Mitkus
 Erika Mitkus, who also received an M.S.Ed. in 2016, says Penn GSE expanded her idea of what a science class could be. “Before, my own experience with science education came from my own secondary [education] classes, which were extremely regimented, lecture-based, and lacked elements of inquiry,” she said. “The professors at Penn GSE taught me to view scientific education in a completely different way, and helped me see it as a dynamic, creative subject that could be full of student voices and contributions.”

Mitkus is aware that many early-career teachers don’t always get the time or resources to help them learn their craft. That makes the fellowship so valuable, she said, because “the support of KSTF solves so many of these problems.” Continuing her master thesis’s theme exploring ways of introducing socio-scientific issues and ethics into the science classroom, Erika is “interested in teaching social justice issues in the context of biology.” She adds, “I don’t think I would feel nearly so excited about teaching science if it weren’t for Penn GSE, and I absolutely wouldn’t be as prepared.” Mitkus will begin her first year of teaching biology at The Sanford School in Hockessin, Delaware.

Ashley Smith
 Ashley Smith, a Penn GSE alumna who graduated from the Teacher Education Program in 2016, will begin her career as a high school chemistry teacher in the fall. Ashley learned about the fellowship while taking a Secondary Science Methods class with Susan Yoon. “What interested me in the TEP program at Penn GSE was the year-long student teaching experience that was required,” she said. “I truly felt like my students’ teacher and not just a guest that was there for a couple of weeks. I was able to have a more realistic experience that made me feel a part of my school’s community, through getting involved with extracurricular activities as well as parent-teacher conferences and faculty meetings.”

A source of concern to Smith and many other early career high school teachers is the all-too-common susceptibility to become overwhelmed with work. But Ashley said the KSTF fellowship offers her peace of mind. “I will have the support and resources I need to continue to love this career.”

These three Penn GSE alumni will be part of KSTF’s 2016 cohort of 34 fellows, according to KSTF’s press release. The Teaching Fellowship focuses on supporting teacher-led educational improvement in the classroom and beyond by offering fellows “access to a comprehensive suite of benefits for five years, including: summer stipends, funds for professional development, grants for teaching materials, mentoring and support from experienced teachers and teacher educators, support for teacher leadership activities, [as well as] membership in a community of more than 300 like-minded peers in 40 states.”