STEM graduate finds the right formula: chemistry plus education
Jonathan Salas finds pleasure in teaching others tricky equations. “It’s the sparkle in their eyes, the way I know they get it,” Salas said. “That’s why I love teaching chemistry.”
As a spring graduate of Florida Gulf Coast University with a major in biology and minors in chemistry and education, Salas responded to several job offers as a public school teacher in STEM before obtaining his diploma. His first adventure in his own classroom will take place this fall when he begins teaching chemistry at Cape Coral High School.
“Education in general is a very important subject – teaching is one of the most important things we can do – to impart what we are learning,” he said.
Salas sees itself as an intermediary in reaching out to future generations. Describing his passion for “mastering concepts and helping others to do it too”, his enthusiasm is palpable. This excitement to explaining compound mechanisms or molecular formulas is the precise combination the school system needs to ignite future science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) graduates.
“The community benefits tremendously from placing STEM majors in local schools as teachers,” said Jennifer Jones, director of the Center for Environment and Society at FGCU (formerly known as the Center for Environmental & Sustainability Education) . “A lot of K-12 teachers who teach science don’t actually have science degrees. Having someone with Jonathan’s experience is a big victory for education. “
Salas worked as a student assistant at the center for four years, learning various methods of teaching about the environment. Jones says that since working alongside Salas, she’s seen him excel as a role model in the diversity of what he does and his commitment to teaching others.
Originally, Salas was scheduled to graduate in fall 2020, but once she learned he was interested in teaching, Jones encouraged him to apply for the Robert Noyce scholarship program of the National Science Foundation (NSF), managed by the Whitaker Center of the FGCU, changing the mechanics of its course course to include teaching as a profession.
The program aims to introduce teachers who excel in science and other STEM fields to bring this knowledge to the classroom. As one of five FGCU students to receive the Noyce scholarship, he received $ 14,000 for tuition and tools to teach K-12 science classes after graduation. his diploma. The program placed Salas as a full-time certified teacher in Florida and guaranteed him a placement.
“It’s an amazing story of opportunities to inspire future STEM majors,” Jones said. “I consider it a great joy as a faculty member to mentor students outside of class – it’s really special. Jonathan’s success on this path is a great accomplishment for me, for the center and for the local schools.
Salas shared the challenges of navigating through the loss of his father while in his sophomore year at FGCU. “I focused on my lessons and did my best,” he said. Faced with challenges in his own organic chemistry classes, Salas turned to his mentors, peers, and chemistry tutor to help him find the right mix. Once things started to kick in, he became a chemistry teacher himself and discovered a deep love for teaching. Excellent in class, he was invited to be the president of the Chemistry Honor Society. He also obtained a scholarship from the Pop and Marj Kelly Scholarship to support his studies.
This year, Salas worked closely with the Watershed Teacher Leadership Academy (WeTLAnd) of the FGCU, which further prepared him to become a classroom teacher, discovering creative methods and incorporating elements of the environment into the lessons. Its formula is simple, he says. “To master the concepts and gain confidence, you have to repeat the equations over and over again: find the order of operations, draw diagrams on the whiteboard, draw each step over and over. He also deploys some connection techniques with students, focusing on repetition and project-based learning tasks for hands-on experience. “The more engaged they are, the better the chances of learning the steps.”
Although he was not always sure about teaching as a career, Salas had seen firsthand the impact that an inspiring educator can have: growing up in Broward County, his mother was also a teacher. He sees the benefits of giving back to instill that love of learning that he has discovered for himself.
“I try to relate the themes to their personal lives – jokes to calm their nerves,” he said. “Then I lean on the whiteboard to talk about many mechanisms – to visualize the movement of molecules until a basic understanding of molecules becomes like two plus two.”
Tags: chemistry, fgcu, Florida Gulf Coast University, national science foundation, Noyce scholarship, NSF, science, STEM, teaching