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7 simple words led ‘Promising’ scholar to hybrid education master’s program

A headshot of Alyssa Fuentez, a student in Oregon State's hybrid M.S. in Education degree program.

Oregon State Ecampus student commits to a future of teaching science, making an impact

By Tyler Hansen

Alyssa Fuentez can trace the altered trajectory of her career to a single conversation.

Engaged in discussion with an environmental ethics professor, Fuentez became distressed as she wondered how society could curb the enormous issues of climate change.

In seven words, her future was rewritten.

“Find your part and commit to it,” Dr. Barbara Muraca told Fuentez.

It didn’t happen overnight, but that call to action sparked a shift from a budding academic career in neuroscience research to a life of teaching the next generation of scientists and thought-leaders.

The advice led Fuentez to Oregon State University’s hybrid Master of Science in Education degree program, which provides the advanced knowledge and in-the-classroom training she needs to teach high school biology.

Prior to enrolling — and while in Muraca’s undergraduate class at the University of Oregon — Fuentez learned that she earned a Promising Scholar Fellowship from Oregon State’s Graduate School, given annually to first-generation college students and people from low-income backgrounds.

“It felt like the stars aligned,” Fuentez said. “It confirmed that I found my part, and now it was time to do the work and commit.”

And she is. Her experience in the one-year, hybrid M.S. in Education program blends engaging online coursework with face-to-face class meetings on Oregon State’s Corvallis campus two Saturdays per quarter.

The program curriculum, developed by expert faculty in OSU’s College of Education, calls for Fuentez and her cohort to complete a pair of professional internships followed by a full-time student teaching internship.

“It’s clear this generation is very proactive because they will be more directly impacted by climate change. I feel that it is my role as an educator to find and provide these opportunities to students.”

It’s precisely the type of hands-on training she wanted after deciding on a career introducing issues of environmental ethics to teenagers.

“Beyond getting experience teaching and further developing my lessons, my main goal is to get connected with the local community,” said Fuentez, noting that research shows the most successful climate change education strategies connect students to local organizations, such as a community garden.

“I think it’s clear this generation is very proactive because they will be more directly impacted by climate change. I feel that it is my role as an educator to find and provide these opportunities to students. This makes science so much more meaningful.”

Not only is Fuentez positioning herself to be a mentor for students in the classroom, but she also stands as a model of success for other first-generation college students. She proactively developed a support team as an undergraduate student to help her navigate graduate school applications, which often present barriers to low-income students and people of color.

The Promising Scholar Fellowship provides financial and professional development support that enables Fuentez to “fully commit” to her studies in Oregon State’s hybrid M.S. in Education program. Still, much work needs to be done.

“As a first-generation college student, navigating academia and its financial burdens can be daunting,” she said. “… So while this fellowship has profoundly changed my life, I think it’s warranted to still be critical of higher education and the education inequities it can perpetuate.”

The “Promising” label of Fuentez’s fellowship suggests a bright future, and it undoubtedly is. We know this because of what she accomplished before she ever enrolled online with OSU Ecampus.

In her undergraduate studies, she conducted research funded by the National Institutes of Health in multiple laboratory settings on the West Coast. On one project, she trained mice to hunt crickets — an innate behavior often lost in a laboratory setting — and helped build miniature cameras that tracked the mouse’s pupil.

“Think of a GoPro, but for mice,” she said.

Later she conducted independent research that, in short, aimed to determine whether a socially, physically and visually enriched environment increases brain activity in mice.

All of these experiences — combined with Muraca’s seven words of advice — have helped shape Fuentez’s ambition to work as a science educator.

And soon, she’ll be the one dishing out pearls of wisdom to a younger generation, encouraging them to find their passion and dive in headfirst.

Take the first step toward enrolling in Oregon State’s hybrid M.S. in Education degree program.

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