Published: Feb. 26, 2016

Luke DeGregori and Carissa Marsh are almost as passionate about science education as they are about each other. Before the couple marries this July, they’re focused on their final semester at the University of Colorado Boulder and time well spent student teaching.

The pair met in middle school and started dating in high school. Like their love story, their interest for science developed early. Luke, a physics major, and Carissa, a molecular, cellular and developmental biology major, came to CU Boulder with sights set on research post-graduation.

“I have always been really passionate about biology,” said Carissa. “I have wanted to be a researcher since 4th grade. I thought I wanted to study viruses and cancer research.”

That was before, in their own words, they got bit by the “teaching bug.” First, it affected Luke. As a freshman, he took a student position as a Learning Assistant for the physics of sound and music class. Learning Assistants, or LAs, are undergraduates who are supported by university faculty to help their fellow students learn. The experience deepened Luke’s interest in physics and teaching.

“I have always enjoyed the social aspect of science,” he said. “Part of what I like is seeing people react to science.”

Luke enjoyed being an LA so much that he returned for a second semester, and he encouraged Carissa to apply to the program too. Carissa had been applying for student positions in labs across campus, but she applied for a position as an LA as a “last resort,” she said. Soon, Carissa was splitting her time between a lab position and as a Learning Assistant.

“I was supposed to spend 10 hours a week at each job, but I was spending closer to 15 to 20 hours as an LA,” she said. “Everyday I looked forward to being an LA. I figured out I just love education. I love when my passion for biology is infectious for another person. I love the intellectual challenge of having to think, ‘what will make this click for students.’”

Research shows the Learning Assistant Program indeed helps make learning “click” for students enrolled in large classes with LA support and for the Learning Assistants as well. Administered by the School of Education, the LA program features a seminar course focused on content, practice, and pedagogy, and some of the LAs, like Luke and Carissa, choose to take subsequent education classes. The couple also took science education courses through the CU Teach Program, and they are on a path to earning their teacher licensure with support from Noyce Teacher Scholarships, all through the CU Boulder School of Education. They also deepened their interest and experience as summer teaching assistants for Science Discovery, CU Boulder’s K-12 science education outreach program.

This summer, however, they will be busy hosting their July wedding. The wedding’s theme aptly centers around science education with Erlenmeyer flasks for centerpieces, periodic table place settings, and a live chemical reaction in place of the unity candle. They say their mutual affinity for education has brought them closer together.

“We can always find ways to bring education into our conversations,” Luke said.

“We have so much more to talk about,” Carissa added. “Education has shaped our personalities because of the social justice piece, and it’s provided a solid foundation for our relationship.”