Many Swarthmore grads find themselves at the intersection of intellectual pursuit and social change. For Laura Wang '10, that junction places her in an urban public school classroom. It was a far cry from where Wang expected to find herself upon graduating with a double major in chemistry and Asian studies.
"Coming from a place like Swarthmore, there's a lot of focus on academic achievement, and I thought I was supposed to do [with my life] whatever I was the most 'academically capable of,'" says Wang.
"But, after working in research and recognizing that it wasn't emotionally fulfilling, I realized I wanted to feel that the work I was doing was making the world a better and more just place and I realize now that there's a way to achieve that outside of the Ph.D. world and still have an intellectually rich life."
Like most Swatties, once Wang made a plan of action for her career, big things started happening-not long after recognizing education as her true calling, she was awarded a prestigious Knowles Science Teaching Foundation fellowship. The $175,000 fellowship provides five years of funding for Wang and 34 others from across the nation to cover the costs of certification and extended training and support mounted by the foundation, and builds a dedicated base of fellow teachers and teachers-to-be in the program.
Wang will begin a master's program at Teachers College at Columbia focusing on secondary chemistry education in the fall. She hopes to be in a classroom full time by the 2013-2014 school year.
"[The fellows are] a fantastic community of bright, committed people who are proud to be a part of a profession that does great things, and I feel so privileged to be a part of this program," says Wang.
The fellowship serves to provide aid to fledgling math, biology, and physical science teachers at the start of their careers to ensure that high-caliber teachers remain in the profession. According to a press release, nearly half of all new teachers nationwide leave the profession within the first five years. Conversely, KSTF teachers have a retention rate of 95 percent.
"Swarthmore is really good at educating students in a moral way in addition to an intellectual way, and I think teaching does that too: it's intellectual and it's a great way to affect social change. ... Education is the most powerful tool of social justice. I want to educate in urban public schools because I feel like they're schools where I can make the most difference."