In an ever-evolving society, adapting to the myriad of changes that inevitably occur are crucial to both professional and personal success.
Caitlin Hernandez has been an educator in Gwinnett County for seven years. But relying simply on her original educational background to remain relevant for her students wouldn’t cut it, particularly when it came to the skills that make science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) curriculums.
That’s why she turned to Georgia State Online.
“Through the research and learning, it became apparent to me that either I have to stay up to date with what is happening in STEM or I have to make some connections so that I can better help my students,” she said.
Over the last 30 years, employment in STEM occupations has grown by 79 percent, according to the Pew Research Center. The STEM field has produced high-paying jobs and new career paths for millions of Americans, and many more can find a path to their own STEM career in grade school.
For teachers looking for more STEM training to better teach today’s students, Georgia State Online offers two options. The STEM Education Post-Baccalaureate Certificate program allows prospective students to receive a certificate in 18 hours of coursework – over two semesters – and is available completely online. The STEM Education M.Ed. Online program gives an opportunity to achieve a master’s degree completely online in 36 hours of coursework – over four semesters – with the built-in certificate in STEM education.
Now teaching ecology, Hernandez has taught on both sides of the COVID-19 pandemic. The online program has allowed her to familiarize herself with more online practices, she said.
“Being an online student post-pandemic is different than it probably was pre-pandemic,” Hernandez said. “We’ve all had to learn and adjust to ‘How do you get people to interact and communicate while being virtual,’ so I think some of the things that were most helpful were being able to do discussion posts and Zoom sessions that I’m not sure would have been part of programs pre-pandemic.”
As a teacher in the Metro-Atlanta area, Hernandez knows there is a difference between teaching in her neighborhood and more rural areas. While not exclusively for those in big cities, the program helps teachers better understand and prepare for students in a larger city district.
“Georgia State as a whole has more of an urban education focus,” Hernandez said. “A lot of the focus is on critical pedagogy, culturally-relevant practices, things like that. It is very social justice forward.”
Not only does the program have a diversity focus, but there is also a focus on community. Natalie King, an associate professor of science education and program coordinator for the online STEM programs, said the program strives to form a community between middle and secondary STEM educators where STEM lessons and ideas can be incorporated into classrooms regardless of the course.
“We’re teaching them to figure out how to work across their schools, with the arts, with connections, with CTAE courses, so educators can make those connections for students and not expect students to make the connections that we as teachers have not done the work to prepare them to do,” King said.
The STEM program runs asynchronously and allows students to choose an area of emphasis in science education, math education, computer science or integrated middle level, King said.
Some pretty big names have partnered with the program to give teachers experiences they can translate into the classroom. This year, the program partnered with Amazon Web Services to provide an AWS Cloud Foundations course to allow program students to receive a badge in AWS Introduction to Cloud Foundations.
“It was designed for educators so that educators can become more familiar with careers in the cloud and introduce them to students,” King said. “We’re trying to figure out other ways that we can partner with others in the industry as part of our curriculum so that our teachers are more equipped to be able to better serve students and classrooms.”
Hernandez is part of the cohort that is earning that badge. Hernandez is partnering with Gwinnett County’s department of water resources to develop two-part lessons for ecology students – one that teaches basics in the classroom in the beginning followed by real-world examples taught by county employees later in the year.