When Payal Patel entered UMass Lowell as a biomedical engineering major, she reluctantly decided to leave her tutoring job and stop teaching Hinduism classes at her temple in Lowell.
“I quit both to focus on engineering, but I really missed teaching, so I went back to my tutoring job,” she says. “And then I thought, ‘Maybe I should make this a career choice.’”
At orientation, Patel had heard about the UTeach program – an education minor for students majoring in science, engineering or math – and met someone who was already enrolled. She decided to look into it. By second semester of her first year, the Honors College student had switched her major to biology and enrolled in UTeach.
“At UMass Lowell, you have that flexibility to change your career path,” she says. “My goal is to be a high school biology teacher.”
A senior, Patel will take her Massachusetts teaching licensure exams in secondary education, biology and teaching English language learners, and also complete her four-month student teaching practicum at Greater Lawrence Technical School in Andover. Then, she can start teaching while completing a master’s degree.
Patel says she’s already fielding job offers, thanks to the reputation of UTeach and the program’s emphasis on hands-on learning.
“One thing I love about UTeach is that from your first class, you’re going into schools and teaching, so that you know what you’ve signed up for,” she says. “You think teaching is the easiest profession around, and then you go into a school – and you realize how much preparation is involved.”
Her favorite experiences include a class for UTeach and master’s degree students taught by Asst. Prof. Johanna Tigert, a specialist in teaching multilingual learners. The students prepared science and math lessons for multilingual students and taught them for an after-school club at a Lowell middle school.
“That’s the fun part – the kids are so excited to be there, even though it’s after school,” Patel says.
She also took a job with the Pedroso Tutors program, which pays UTeach students and education majors to assist in the Lowell schools. Patel is helping out the Math Department at Lowell STEM Academy, rotating among third- and fourth-grade classes and pulling students who need extra help into small groups.
Because UTeach is such a small program, students have close relationships with the faculty, she says.
During the COVID-19 shutdown, amid racial justice protests, she and other students began talking with each other about how they could address racial issues through STEM education. Faculty encouraged them to start a Students and Teachers Advocating for Non-Discrimination (STAND) committee. It now meets regularly.
Patel is also part of a mentoring network started by Education Assoc. Prof. Phitsamay Uy for Asian American and Pacific Islander education students, early career teachers and experienced teachers.
“So many schools were struggling with the racial conversation, while we were talking about it openly in UTeach and the Asian American Educator Mentor Program,” Patel says. “Students and teachers should be comfortable talking about these issues. You should be able to analyze your teaching to see if you might be excluding certain people.”
Under a $1,200 Honors College Student Fellowship, Patel began doing research her sophomore year with Biology Assoc. Teaching Prof. Naomi Wernick on how financial stress affects students at UMass Lowell.
Working with recent UTeach graduate Alexander Eden, now a biology teacher and master’s student, they are further refining the data to look at the effects of race and income level. The results will be Patel’s honors thesis.