COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - Written by Tim Turner, CSU Communications Specialist
Columbus State University's May 12 spring commencement will feature the first sitting governor to speak in recent memory and celebrate a first for its innovative UTeach Columbus program.
Nathan Deal, Georgia's 82nd governor, will deliver his remarks before nearly 800 graduates at the 6:30 p.m. Monday event at the Columbus Civic Center. TSYS CEO Phil Tomlinson, a CSU Foundation trustee, will also be awarded an honorary doctorate.
Among the graduates will be Duncan Cantrell and Timothy Jones, CSU's first two graduates of UTeach, a one-of-a-kind program that aims to produce more teachers in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math. CSU's faculty in those areas, as well as education, does this by working closely with teaching experts in local schools.
Together, they prepare CSU students for a career in mathematics or science. UTeach allows students to acquire a deep understanding of their fields of study; explore mathematics or science teaching as a career; and develop the knowledge, skills and disposition needed for teaching.
Upon completion of the program, students will earn a CSU degree in biology, chemistry, earth and space science, or mathematics and be qualified to teach in a middle school or high school after passing the appropriate state certification examination.
Cantrell, who has completed his bachelor of arts in biology and secondary education, was the recipient of UTeach scholarships, as well as a Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship, funded through a National Science Foundation grant to CSU. He also has worked as an intern in the UTeach program, designing and teaching labs in life science to homeschooled middle schoolers. The career objective for the Jackson, Tenn., native is to teach middle school and high school students now that he feels prepare because of UTeach.
"It was very engaging in all of the classes," Cantrell said of the program. "You have to design and present lessons. Then in almost all the classes — you actually go to elementary, middle and high school classes — and you teach students multiple times a year. It's very, very hands on."
Cantrell said he and other UTeach students were taught how to create course content that was inquiry-based, relying more on posing questions or scenarios rather than simply presenting established facts.
"(It's) very hands on, very much making science accessible and interesting," he said. "(CSU instructors) practiced what they preached. Classes are designed around do-it-yourself, try it, fail and retry it until you figure it out."
Jones, a Columbus native, has completed his Bachelor of Science in chemistry and, like Cantrell, was the recipient of UTeach scholarships, as well as a Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship. He, too, worked as an intern in the UTeach program, designing and teaching labs in physical science to homeschooled middle school students on a weekly basis for an entire school year.
Jones said he felt like he had nothing to lose when he entered the program, and it didn't take long for him to see teaching was where he belonged.
"I remember (student teaching) at Northside High School when I was doing classroom interactions," he said. "I was teaching them organic chemistry, and they were just eating it up. That's when I knew I was in the right field. Just how engaged they were learning about chemistry — that makes all the difference."
Jones said he now intends to pursue a master's and docorate in education, in addition to teaching. Like Cantrell, he's also embraced the UTeach emphasis on inquiry-based learning.
"We don't believe in lecturing," he said. "We believe in them self-learning, providing them the materials and letting them figure it out. We learned that we're essentially facilitators, guiding them to the answers."