U students teach science in rural Minnesota schools

The program aims to provide more science resources to rural students.

by Emily Ayshford

When Christine Chan arrived in what the locals called “God’s country,” she quickly learned that the northern Minnesota students she helped teach were different than those around Minneapolis.

“I had to start learning the lingo of different types of guns or snowmobiles,” she said. “I even bought a fishing pole.”

Chan was one of six transplanted students who helped teach science in northern Minnesota schools last fall as part of the Science Education Partnership for Greater Minnesota program.

The program, funded by a $1.7 million Howard Hughes Institute grant, aims to provide more science resources to rural students.

Launched last fall, the Rural Teacher Associate Program, a section of the partnership program, placed biology students in rural Minnesota schools for a semester to encourage teaching as a career possibility.

Enrollment for fall’s program is under way.

The program stems from a 1999 study by College of Education and Human Development Dean Steve Yussen. The study found that rural and urban schools had trouble filling vacant science teaching positions. In the 1999-2000 school year there were 232 openings for science teachers in secondary schools in Minnesota.

Ken Jeddeloh, program coordinator, said even if the interns decide a career in education is not one they would like to explore, the program offers students teaching experience without the binds of a graduate degree in education.

“No matter what their decision, it’s a success,” he said.

The program provides a $5,200 stipend for the semester, and allows interns to take up to 13 credits of online classes free during the semester.

Chan, a genetics, cell biology and development senior, said she thought the program sounded like a good opportunity to try a different career path.

“I really like working with kids and I really like biology, so I thought this would be a good program to test that combination out,” she said.

During the semester, interns did everything from make copies to teach lessons in class to tutor students one-on-one.

Chan, who was placed at Park Rapids Area High School, said she enjoyed working with the students and watching them work hard to figure out complicated topics.

“That was very inspiring,” she said.

Andrew Buttler, a biology junior also placed at Park Rapids Area High School, said he is considering a career as a science teacher because he enjoyed teaching lessons during the internship.

But Chan, who hails from St. Louis Park, said adjusting to the rural area proved difficult.

“I don’t know if I could see myself living in an area like that,” she said. Although she said she enjoyed the laid-back lifestyle, the lack of people her age and things to do left her home alone and bored.

Buttler said he dealt with his boredom by exercising, going home on the weekends and even learning how to play the harmonica.

He said he does not plan to move to a rural area anytime soon, but said he thinks “it’s a better deal for people who are looking to settle down.”

Jane Phillips, a coordinator for College of Biological Sciences’ instructional labs who also helps with the program, said several students expressed concerns about adjusting to rural areas and said she and Jeddeloh are currently working with University Counseling to help build more support systems for the interns.

The program also offers workshops for rural science teachers, and Jeddeloh said they plan to have a center available to lend science equipment to rural schools.

Eight students so far have signed up for the program next fall and Phillips said they have funding for up to 14 interns.

The grant allows the program to continue for another three years, and Phillips said she hopes the grant will be renewed.

“I think it’s a program that’s very helpful all the way around,” she said.