By Lisa Romero, BIO5 Institute
UA College of Education
The UA MASTER-IP is sending off its first cohort of graduates - 14 students. Among them are Carl and Brenda Dickason, a couple that decided to pursue their graduate studies together and now are graduating together.
It was a startling moment: Carl Dickason and his Sabino High School students had been studying Astronomical Research Institute data when they found an asteroid. Then another.
For months, Dickason and his students awaited word on whether one was a new discovery. Neither was, but the moments of awe were what Dickason sought in the face of his students.
"I hear some of them say, 'I'm not going to use science in life,' but I want them to see that science is a way to see life," said Dickason, an Earth science teacher.
But there are other facets to this story.
First, the project was influenced by research on ways to improve classroom instruction that Dickason conducted because of his involvement in the University of Arizona's Math and Science Teacher Education/Retention Industry Partnerships Program, or MASTER-IP.
And his wife, Brenda Dickason, also is a MASTER-IP student and will graduate Dec. 17 alongside him and one dozen other Tucson area, Phoenix and Sierra Vista students in the program.
Funded by Science Foundation Arizona, the three-year-old program is designed to retain early career teachers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the STEM fields.
MASTER-IP students spend the academic year teaching and are hired into paid internships with industry partners during the summer working in accounting, information security, program design, research and other areas.
The program also works to establish tangible connections between classrooms and industry to encourage youth to take an active interest in STEM.
On the academic side, a major component is the "action research project" – like Dickason involving his students with the International Astronomical Search Collaboration – during which UA students must identify a problem within their practice and, involving their students, develop a practical remedy.
"The teachers are thinking differently about how they teach. They are thinking more deeply and creatively," said Julia Olsen, who directs the College of Education program.
MASTER-IP students, who are observed in the classroom over six semesters, learn to avoid the standard front-and-center teaching. Drawing on their internship experiences and coursework, they move toward student-centered, collaborative learning to encourage more engagement and peer-generated knowledge in the classroom, Olsen said.
And the industry partners have become more engaged with the teachers in their classrooms, Olsen added, often encouraging employees to visit as guest speakers, sponsoring after-school projects and donating materials for class.
"The businesses are taking care of their short-term and long-term goals," said Olsen, also a faculty member in the UA teaching, learning and sociocultural studies department.
"By hiring teachers, they get a highly skilled employee and see immediate results for the money they are investing, and the long-term goal is that more students will be interested in these careers," Olsen said. "And they're developing a better view of the teaching profession."
For the Dickasons, the program has fulfilled a life-long goal.
Brenda Dickason grew up in Los Angeles and, having come from an impoverished home, delayed her dream of earning a degree so that she could care for her family.
She would have to wait decades – along the way serving 17 years as a Tucson Police Department officer and detective – before pursuing and earning an undergraduate degree.
"I saw all these children who were arrested and they couldn't read or write. It was frustrating," said Dickason, who spent 17 years with TPD, the majority of the time investigating child abuse cases.
"I thought about volunteering, but then I decided I wanted to teach. I wanted to be part of the solution," said Dickason, who earned her history degree from the UA in 2001 and, along with pursuing her master's degre, has most recently been teaching at Townsend Middle School.
In fact, Dickason shares with her husband a deep desire to help develop the intellectual and emotional capacities of her students while preparing them for the next level in life.
Carl Dickason has worked as a laboratory animal technician, store manager and owner, a farm worker, worked in maintenance and also designed sound systems. He, too, wanted to pursue a higher education, but also had to wait.
"I managed people for 30 years. I don't regret the delay because of the life experience," Dickason said.
"The MASTER-IP showed me how to work in science and gave me an understanding of what students need," he said.
"I am teaching them how to do science and other skills, like critical thinking and how you can tell good information from bad," Dickason also said. "I'm not going to just teach them dry facts."
UA College of Education