Honors student Duc Vu joined a robotics club in high school in Andover, Massachusetts, and enjoyed it a lot. He figured he would pursue a career in engineering.
But a funny thing happened along the way. The research he learned to do in the Andover Robotics Club inspired a love of reading: “I like learning deeply about different topics,” he says.
At the same time, he enjoyed his English classes. He also loves movies and television series, especially ones with strong, science-related story lines, including “Jurassic Park” and “Breaking Bad.” He spent a lot of time reading and watching videos about storytelling.
Late in his senior year of high school, he watched the PBS documentary “The Poisoner’s Handbook” for the second time, and it struck a chord. He began reading everything he could about the chemist Alexander Gettler, who helped the chief medical examiner of New York City pioneer the use of forensic science in the criminal justice system.
Shortly before starting at UMass Lowell, Vu decided to switch his major to chemistry.
“I felt a really strong connection to it,” he says. “Chemistry just clicked. I said, ‘Wow – that’s something I really want to do.’”
His experiences in the robotics club also inspired Vu to join UTeach, an education minor for students majoring in science, technology, engineering or math. Vu learned about the UTeach program, which leads to initial licensure as a science or math teacher, at student orientation before freshman year.
“As part of the robotics club, you had to transfer a lot of what you learned to underclassmen, and I really enjoyed it,” he says. “And in class, when I had to make a presentation, I enjoyed that, too. I have a knack for presenting a lesson or a project, so I thought I’d try UTeach and see where it takes me.”
So far, he’s enjoying his education classes, which – until the COVID-19 shutdown – had him and other students going into the Lowell schools to present lessons and lead hands-on math and science activities. He looks forward to resuming in-person teaching.
Vu also joined UML’s Honors College, which got him into smaller classes, he says, including Honors Chemistry, Honors Calculus and the First-year Seminar in Honors, which introduces students to Lowell’s history as an industrial city and a home to immigrants from around the world.
“Because I was in the Honors College, I was dealt a great hand with incredible professors,” he says.
As a sophomore, he took a new, interdisciplinary honors seminar, Graphic Science and Medicine, that combines two of his main interests: storytelling and science. Assoc. Prof. of Art Karen Roehr helps students analyze graphic novels and nonfiction works – and then create their own. Vu says he learned skills that could help him as a classroom teacher someday.
“The skills I learned as a storyteller in that class might help me prepare for teaching a lesson,” he says. “Someone once told me that teaching is joke-telling and storytelling that conveys a message.”