It all began with his electric guitar.
“I was curious how my guitar worked,” said Clint Perry, who asked his high school physics teacher for answers. “The next thing you know, I was building my own amplifiers. My teacher saw in me something I didn’t and then encouraged me to pursue a degree in electrical engineering.”
While the thrill of figuring out how things work led Perry to major in electrical engineering, he was also intrigued by the way his teacher took something that interested him – the guitar – and applied it to physics and engineering.
That curiosity led him to sign up for the university’s UTeach program, which allows science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) majors to earn a minor in STEM teaching. UTeach is a national program that was developed at the University of Texas at Austin more than 15 years ago and launched at UMass Lowell in 2012.
When Perry graduates in May, he’ll have the best of both worlds when it comes to career choices – working in industry or teaching secondary school science. He is the first engineering student to graduate with the STEM teaching minor and an initial teaching license.
As a freshman, he took the first UTeach class, which wasted no time bringing him into a classroom so he could decide if teaching was for him.
“We learned how to develop a lesson plan, and then I taught a lab on magnetism to third graders,” says Perry. “It feels like I was always meant to do this, but I had to discover that I wanted to do it. I’m grateful that UMass Lowell gave me this opportunity.”
Eager to let others know about the benefits of the UTeach program, he has presented at the UTeach Conference in Austin, Texas, as well as a STEM Summit in Worcester, Mass.
“Clint is enthusiastic about engineering and carries that enthusiasm into his teaching,” says Anita Greenwood, dean of the Graduate School of Education. “He is a perfect example of why the university became a UTeach site. Our undergraduates are motivating middle and high school students to pursue STEM fields, which is an important initiative in the state to meet the future needs of the Massachusetts economy.”
In the final semester of his senior year, Perry is student-teaching physics to 11th graders and engineering to 12th graders at Billerica High School.
“Teaching is like a puzzle,” he explains. “I need to guide the students to discover the answer without giving them the answer. It is challenging for me to find the best way to do this, and it’s very rewarding when I do.”
He uses some of the same teaching techniques that his electrical engineering professors employ, including applying engineering principles to subjects that interest students rather than teaching abstract concepts. The UTeach program taught him how to structure his lessons using the “5E model” – engage, explore, explain, elaborate and evaluate – which encourages students to use inquiry and critical thinking as they learn.
“I’ve had very inspiring professors that have allowed me work on real projects like creating a helix antenna for a cube satellite,” Perry says. “It is really interesting for me to understand how engineering is integrated into the real world.”
Using what he learned in the UTeach project-based instruction course, which is sponsored by Kronos Inc. of Lowell, Perry and plastics engineering major and UTeach student Andrew Antonitis challenged the students to design and build a bridge made of fiber-reinforced composite. During a field trip to the Tsongas Industrial History Center, the high school students made fiber cloth for the bridge.
“The students were engaged, excited and interested, which was very fulfilling for me,” says Perry.
When Perry graduates, he’d like to work in industry before teaching so that he can integrate his experience into the classroom.
“I know I’ll end up teaching, no matter what I do next,” he says.