Out of the lab… and testing her teaching skills

December 3, 2010

MSU alum changes careers through Fellowship focused on math and science education

Final deadline for application is Jan. 12! More information.

By Nicole Geary

Two years ago, Georgia Watson was testing soil samples for heavy metals.

She was a lab tech by training even though her heart, by that time, was aching with another aspiration.


Going back to school seemed out of the question for the Michigan State University biochemistry graduate (’99) and busy single mom.

“For me to be as bubbly and outgoing as I am, I started feeling like the lab wasn’t really the place for me,” said Watson, 33, who had begun working as a substitute teacher in schools near her Indianapolis home. “I thought it was the most fun I had ever had at any job, but I didn’t have the qualifications to teach.”

That was before Watson became a Woodrow Wilson Indiana Teaching Fellow. Today she is in her own classroom, certified and helping high school students build the confidence they need to master physics and chemistry lessons. She is working toward her master’s degree.

The alternative certification program, which includes a $30,000 stipend, prepares individuals with experience in mathematics or science fields to teach in high-need school districts in less than two years.

And the fellowship is now available at Michigan State University. The first cohort of W.K. Kellogg Foundation Woodrow Wilson Michigan Teaching Fellows begins classes this summer.

“In these challenging economic times, it is more important than ever that we have teachers of science and mathematics who not only are well prepared, but committed to supporting the learning of children in schools with the greatest need,” said Gail Richmond, MSU program director and associate professor of teacher education.

“We are quite excited about this new phase of our partnership with the Detroit and Grand Rapids school districts and with the challenge of creating a program that will prepare MSU Fellows for productive careers as urban teachers.”

MSU was one of six universities selected to participate in the Michigan version of the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship, a model for launching education careers that has been implemented in Indiana and is also underway in Ohio.

The Michigan initiative was created after the W.K. Kellogg Foundation awarded a $16.7 million grant to the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, which administers the programs.

MSU plans to prepare up to 40 post-baccalaureate teaching candidates specifically for careers in urban schools, where they must commit to teach for at least three years. Fellows will take summer courses on content and teaching methods and complete a full-year teaching internship in Detroit or Grand Rapids modeled after the university’s highly regarded initial teacher certification program.

Fellows may complete the requirements for a master’s degree in the year following their certification. They will also receive mentoring and other forms of induction support during their first three years on the job.

Watson’s cohort in Indiana included students ranging in age from 25 to 69, with previous occupations ranging from a stay-at-home mom to a medical school professor. The group took courses together, spent two semesters student teaching and shared a common mission: to make math and science learning more effective through real-life connections.

A Spartan chemist turned teacher, Watson says the Fellowship gave her the chance to use her expertise where it’s needed most.

“Do I want to produce scientists? Totally. But is that a goal of mine? Not necessarily,” Watson said. “I just want my students to be able to analyze things, think critically and make informed decisions.

“To me, that’s what science is all about.”

For more information

Know someone who would be interested in the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Woodrow Wilson Michigan Teaching Fellowship? Candidates apply to the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation directly and may select Michigan State University as their first-pick institution.

Visit http://education.msu.edu/te/wkkf-ww/ or contact MSU Director Gail Richmond at gailr@msu.edu or (517) 432-4854.