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Danielle Robin Scharen ‘15, ‘19MED, ‘23PHD: ‘I Feel Honored to Contribute to the Important Work of Improving Science Education for Students of All Ages’

Danielle Robin Scharen ‘15, ‘19MED, ‘23PHD has spent a cumulative 12 years in the College of Education. She began by earning her bachelor’s degree and then, while working as an elementary science teacher, her master’s. She wanted to make a bigger impact for K-12 students.

Now, as she prepares to graduate with her  Ph.D. in Teacher Education and Learning Sciences in the Elementary Education in Mathematics and Science concentration, Scharen hopes to use everything she has learned during her time in the college to transform the field she has been passionate about since childhood.

Learn more about Danielle Robin Scharen:

Hometown: Durham, North Carolina

Concentration: Ph.D. in Teacher Education and Learning Sciences in the Elementary Education in Mathematics and Science concentration

Activities (Research or Extracurricular): Site coordinator and assistant director of Students Advocating for Youth (SAY) Living and Learning Village; instructor in NC State’s undergraduate Elementary Education program; graduate research and teaching assistant across severals College of Education programs, presented research on science and literacy education at local (NCSTA), regional (MA-ASTE), national (ASTE, NSTA) and international (NARST) conferences; curriculum writer and instructor for Engineering World Health nonprofit; study abroad in Rwanda; completed The Graduate School’s Writing Certificate; attended METRC professional development workshops; Teaching Fellows Interviewer; NC State CAEP contributor; invited panelist as NSF Graduate Research Fellow for NC State graduate students;  member of the Advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force for licensure programs; fundraising for community organizations through marathon and ultramarathon racing; volunteer and weekend foster coordinator at Saving Grace NC Animal Rescue

Why did you choose the NC State College of Education?

In 2010, when I first decided to choose the NC State College of Education to complete my bachelor’s degree in elementary education, I was amazed by the new STEM-focused program and the prospect of moving to and teaching in a state that was anticipating significant growth in science education. I had a wonderful experience in the college so, in 2017, while teaching 5th grade science in Wake County schools, I returned to the College of Education’s brand new Master of Education program in elementary science education in search of ways to become a leader in the field of science education. After completing two degrees in the College of Education and witnessing the important work needed to improve science education in North Carolina and across the country, I made the very difficult decision to leave the classroom. I felt so passionately about advocating for in-service and pre-service teachers’ science teaching practices, and I didn’t feel I could make enough impact from my role as an elementary classroom teacher. I wanted to better understand the current research and areas of need in elementary science education, and working on my Ph.D. felt like the next step towards that goal. I did not hesitate to choose NC State’s College of Education for my Ph.D. program. Having already completed two degrees in the college and staying connected with faculty and alumni from the College of Education, I always felt strongly connected to my Wolfpack community and supported by the College of Education faculty far beyond my time as a student there. After being accepted into the Elementary Education in Mathematics and Science doctorate concentration and receiving the National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship, I was afforded the opportunities to teach and research in the department and felt continuously supported by every faculty, staff, student and alumni of NC State’s College of Education throughout every part of my Ph.D.  journey. I am eternally grateful for the experience and connections I have had in the College of Education.

Why did you choose your concentration?

Children are naturally curious about the natural world around them and I was no exception. I had always been fascinated by science exploration in my formative childhood years through college, particularly in the field of astronomy. I was equally enthralled by contributing to others’ learning and decided to be a teacher when I was only eight years old. Seeking a path that allowed me to share my passion for science learning and teaching, NC State’s STEM-focused elementary education program could not have been a better fit for me. When I was a classroom teacher, the most important quality I sought in each school where I taught was their value for STEM education and their dedication to supporting students’ science learning. I was fortunate to teach at one school that valued STEM education and encouraged me to continue learning how to improve the field. Through my choice to study, research and teach in the field of elementary science education, I feel honored to contribute to the important work of improving science education for students of all ages.

What’s your next step? What do you have planned after graduation?

First and foremost, I will be taking time to prioritize myself and my family. Completing a Ph.D. takes a village and I’m so grateful for the support I have had along this long and challenging journey. I look forward to being able to spend time with friends and family once again. After graduation, I will be taking time to travel, volunteer and spend time away from my computer. I feel this time is important as a chance to reconnect with myself after many years of hard work. As I continue searching for the next step in my career path, I am working as an education consultant for Outdoor STEM Adventures, a program working with elementary and middle schools in the area to increase children’s outdoor science learning experiences. Through this opportunity, I am fortunate to work with many students and teachers as we spend time outside exploring the many wonders of our natural world.

How has the College of Education prepared you for that next step?

The greatest way the College of Education has prepared me is through leadership and community. I have been offered many opportunities as a leader in the education community and throughout NC State, and I credit that to our college’s culture of seeing each student as a leader and advocate. I have always felt supported, challenged, uplifted and encouraged to achieve greatness while part of the College of Education. The community within the college is also a significant contribution to my preparedness. If not for the wonderful community of faculty, staff, alumni and students, I likely would not have returned to NC State to complete all three of my degrees. My connections, lasting relationships and friendships across the College of Education have been and will continue to be impactful in my work in the field of education.

What do you eventually hope to accomplish in your field?

I have many far-fetched dreams about the work I may one day accomplish, and I feel the education field needs a lot of dreamers! I don’t yet know exactly what I want to accomplish in my aim to improve science education; the journey and discovery along the way is where some of the greatest accomplishments happen. The most important goal for me is to make sure I’m creating a better future for our students and teachers on a national and global scale. I strongly feel that we are doing a disservice to our society by severely restricting science education, especially in the foundational elementary school years. By continuing to work with in-service teachers, pre-service teachers and teacher educators, and through collaborative research, I hope to be an important contributor to the improvement of science education for young children. I also aim to advocate not only for all students and educators in the work I do and urge others to advocate for improving education. Whether we have any direct connection to K-12 schools or not, it is critical that we are all aware of the policies and changes that impact our teachers, students and administrators across all levels of education and support the education system through learning, listening, voting, informing legislators, volunteering in schools, attending school board meetings and more. Our students are depending on us.

Do you have a favorite memory from your time in the College of Education?

I have spent almost 12 years in the College of Education and cannot possibly choose one single memory from my many roles within the college, but the most important moments came from my students in the College of Education. As an instructor in the undergraduate elementary education program in the college, my favorite days were those when the pre-service teachers in my class engaged in deep science thinking and exploration. For many, their science education experiences were limited and not memorable, and they often entered my class feeling unsure, nervous or unprepared to teach K-5 science. Each week, I witnessed dozens of pre-service teachers engage with science activities, ask thoughtful questions, explore science phenomena with their peers and bring their excitement into their own field placement classrooms.

Tell us about an experience you had with the College of Education that had the biggest impact on you or your career.

The most significant experience I had in the College of Education was my senior year student teaching placement as an undergraduate student. There were countless moments in both of my graduate programs later on that made a significant impact in my teaching and learning, but my student teaching experience was the primary reason I continued to focus so closely on science education and the reason I feel so passionate about improving education. The 5th grade team at Kingswood Elementary School — Kristie Lewis (science), Kim Zeugner (math) and Casey Byrne (reading) — all supported me, encouraged me, taught me and helped me find my passion. Eventually, I returned to Kingswood as the 5th grade science teacher and was given the incredible opportunity to continue to teach with and learn from Ms. Zuegner and Ms. Byrne for many years. Together, we continued to have NC State student teachers on our team and the relationship between the College of Education and our close-knit Kingswood family still exists. The communities and connections that have been created through the College of Education have driven my professional and personal life and for that, I will always be grateful for these experiences.

Why did you choose education?

Every day, it is my wish to do something that positively impacts others. I believe this mindset was instilled in me from a young age as my parents modeled the same lifestyle, showing my siblings and me the importance of doing meaningful work and volunteering for organizations we are passionate about. I feel these ideas carried into my choice to become a teacher, leader and advocate in the field of education.

What are your research interests? What inspired those interests?

I feel I have always been a passionate educator and lifelong learner, especially in science disciplines. As a former elementary school science teacher in North Carolina, I witnessed and personally experienced how policies restricted time, resources, professional development and support of elementary school teachers’ science teaching practices, primarily due to the heavy focus on literacy in elementary schools. As a result, elementary school students in North Carolina and across the United States have limited science learning experiences, as demonstrated in decades of national and international studies and assessments. After frequently witnessing the already limited science time often being replaced by a read-aloud of a science-related text, I was disheartened seeing young students missing out on valuable and necessary science experiences, exploration and learning opportunities. In 2017, as a fifth-grade classroom teacher and graduate student in the elementary education science specialist M.Ed. program here at NC State, I began exploring the role of blending active science learning experiences, student-to-student discourse and the use of reading and writing in science with my students. When I left the classroom in 2019 to embark on my Ph.D. journey, I collaborated with science and literacy researchers in the Teacher Education and Learning Sciences department to formalize the Touch-Talk-Text science instructional model. Since then, I have been working with pre-service and in-service teachers to research and present the importance of integrating science and literacy practices in the elementary school classroom to support young learners’ science sensemaking and engagement with foundational science and literacy skills. Further, I have found that pre-service teachers using the Touch-Talk-Text model in their teacher preparation program feel more confident about teaching science and advocating for improving science in their future classrooms. As I prepare to graduate with my Ph.D. from NC State this May, my interests in this research will continue in my future endeavors as I feel this work is critical for building strong foundations of science teaching and learning.