When Teresa Leavens ‘21PHD was a toxicologist, she was involved in educational outreach work that supported science engagement and interest of individuals traditionally marginalized in STEM. Through those experiences, she discovered that the elementary years are an important time to impact students’ education trajectories. And she found a newfound joy.
Leavens decided to change careers and pursue education.
“It combines my love of science, my beliefs about its important role in both education and life, and my views about the crucial window of time that occurs during children’s elementary years,” she said. “The doctorate program will give me an educational background to use my science capital to work with teachers and students to contribute to the issue of diversity in STEM.”
Leavens, who plans to pursue a career in academia as an education researcher, has been accepted into NC State University’s Preparing the Professoriate (PTP) program, where she will attend regular workshops and build a mentorship relationship with her advisor James Minogue, Ph.D., an associate professor of science education in the NC State College of Education.
“I am very honored and excited to have been selected,” she said. “The program has been highly recommended by other graduate students in the College of Education, and I think the mentorship from the program is going to be an invaluable part of my doctoral training.”
Leavens’ research focus in science education, she says, is on ways to support the educational trajectories of individuals from groups that have been traditionally marginalized from STEM careers based on race, gender and socioeconomic status.
Through the PTP program, Leavens says she will gain teaching experience and have the opportunity to identify possible research opportunities with pre-service teachers about how to impact their science instruction beliefs and practices in a way that supports marginalized students.
Preparing the Professoriate (PTP), established in 1993, is a nationally recognized program designed to give exceptional doctoral students and postdoctoral scholars an immersive mentoring, teaching and future faculty preparation experience. It is a signature program within the NC State Graduate School’s professional development initiative.
“I entered the field of education with the intention of pursuing a tenure track faculty position because of the opportunity to bridge research with teaching practices and improve the educational outcome for certain groups of students,” Leavens said.
The PTP program is open to doctoral students and postdoctoral scholars who plan to pursue careers as faculty members at colleges and universities. Up to 30 fellows are selected annually for the one-year program. Acceptance is highly competitive.
Leavens would love to encourage more integration of science with music, art, English Language Arts, social studies and mathematics in the elementary classroom.
“As a first-generation college student, I am indebted to all the teachers and mentors who supported me on my career path. While I enjoyed my science research as a toxicologist, education allows me to give back and support the success of others in a way that feels very meaningful,” Leavens said. “I love the excitement and energy of children and finding ways to engage them in building new knowledge. It also pushes me to be a life-long learner.”