By Kathy Quirk
Three years ago, Amber and Jared Anderson drove to Drake University in Iowa and back in one day to hear well-known scientist and educator Neil deGrasse Tyson speak.
That’s one indication of how passionate the Andersons are about teaching science. The couple are now seniors in the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee.
Married with two children, the couple juggles work, family and classes as they prepare to become teachers.
The Andersons are among 23 students currently benefitting from UWM’s innovative Life Impact program, which provides support to UWM students who are parents. The financial support has been a big help, especially after Amber’s financial aid ran out. “I don’t know how I would have been able to finish this year without that program,” she said.
But the Life Impact staff also helps them in dealing with other issues, she said. “They’re really like a second family. You walk into that office and they help you keep your perspective; they encourage you and offer guidance. They understand what you’re going through.”
“They are an amazing couple,” said Natalie Reinbold, program manager and life coach in the Life Impact office. “I see a hardworking family struggling to provide a brighter future for themselves and their own children, while also striving to provide a better public school opportunity to the children of Milwaukee.”
Amber Anderson’s decision to become a science teacher was crystallized by hearing Tyson speak passionately about the need for science literacy in America.
“That was really, for me, a personal tipping point, because I was really unsure of what subject I wanted to teach,” Amber said. “Jared was dead set on science from the beginning, but I was a little unsure.”
The Andersons, who both graduate in May, spent some time after completing high school in 2007 finding their career paths.
“I was the general manager of a store and had worked as a cable technician, but I was finding none of those jobs gave me fulfillment,” said Jared.
“We wanted our jobs to be meaningful,” said Amber, “so we could look forward to going to work and making a difference.”
The birth of their son, Wesley, in February 2012 motivated them to make a concrete plan. “We share a lot of the same values and interests, so that’s how we ended up sharing a major, a car and the same school schedule,” said Amber.
Their days – and nights – are busy with classwork during the day and children in the evenings. Wesley is 4, and his sister, Bay, is 1. Jared also works part-time as a tutor through the SPARK Early Literacy program with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee.
Family is important to them and they wanted their children to be close in age, but adding one more child while they were still in school has had more impact than they anticipated.
“We often find ourselves not even starting homework until 9 or so,” added Jared. “We’ve stayed up until 4 a.m., just to get up at 6 with the kids to get them to school. That’s almost the routine, rather than the exception.”
Faculty and staff at UWM have been incredibly supportive, both agree. Senior academic adviser Andrea Azarian was a big factor in their decision to come to UWM, Amber said. “She was so unbelievably helpful from day one.”
Jared lauds professor Craig Berg and senior lecturer Ray Scolavino in the MACSTEP 2.0 science education program for their academic support. “They’re knowledgeable, they make science very understandable; they show you how you can make a difference as a teacher and how you go about teaching science,” Jared said.
In addition to all the other support, the Life Impact program has helped them connect with other student parents.
“It’s nice to have a group of people you know are going through the same thing you are,” said Jared.
When they graduate, the Andersons are planning to look for positions in urban schools. “One of the reasons we chose UWM was because of its emphasis on culturally relevant teaching and urban education. A lot of education programs don’t focus on that enough,” said Amber.
Teaching science is one of their goals, but like Tyson they also want to teach children to think critically and find their own paths, said Amber.
“We’re interested in educating kids to be well-rounded individuals, helping them discover their own strengths and weaknesses and improving their logical thinking. Science is a great medium for that.” Advertorial