CU Engineering works to provide students with the tools to handle the challenges and opportunities facing their generation, all to create a better world in which we all can live, work and play. But before students can experience what the college has to offer, they must be prepared for the challenge of an undergraduate education.
The unique Engineering Plus major is working to prepare middle and high school students for an engineering education by equipping CU students for great teaching positions in the Denver area.
Kendall McKay, who graduated May 10, is the first Engineering Plus (e+) graduate to accept a teaching position at a school in the Denver Schools of Science and Technology (DSST)—a system of schools committed to preparing all youth for a successful college future. Engineering Plus program co-director Jackie Sullivan served on the initial DSST launch team and on their board of directors for 16 years. McKay’s acceptance of a teaching position at DSST completes a circle that Sullivan hopes will grow larger with each passing year.
“This is a dream come true. I didn’t want to save the saved,” Sullivan said about her decision to help found the DSST school system. “I wanted to provide opportunities for urban students who have been left behind by our nation’s public schools.”
This year, DSST high schools had the No. 1, 3 and 4 top average reported SAT scores for low-income students out of all Colorado’s 482 high schools, as well as the No. 1, 2 and 3 average reported SAT scores for black students in the state.
“These schools are getting it done for all kids—especially low income, first generation and minority youth,” Sullivan said.
McKay began her student teaching at Byers Middle School, and will continue in a full-time position there this fall. All e+ students on the CU Teach Engineering pathway do their student teaching at DSST schools, despite the lengthy commute.
“We think DSST schools are outstanding for placing our engineering student teachers,” said Mindy Zarske, a faculty member in e+ who has partnered with DSST/CU initiatives for more than 12 years and was one of McKay’s engineering design professors. “DSST is an opportunity for CU Teach Engineering to dive into an urban setting and work with diverse students. And DSST teachers use research-driven criteria and methods to teach in the classroom, which we want our CU students exposed to, because it works.”
McKay did not start her engineering journey in the e+ program. A summer job at a science camp gave her insight into her passion for teaching.
“That’s where I fell in love with working with kids,” she said. “I love engineering, but looking into it I see myself as more of an educator. I just fell in love with the teaching side of things.”
The following semester, McKay changed her major to Engineering Plus. The major allows students to pursue engineering in addition to another concentration. Some choose a Business Minor concentration, while others focus on Entrepreneurship or Environmental Policy—or any of the 20 non-engineering concentration choices in the e+ program. McKay chose the CU Teach Engineering Math concentration: a track that prepares students to earn the secondary teacher licensure necessary to teach while also attaining a design-based engineering degree.
“Not only was I getting a rich engineering background, but I was also able to get the education requirements as well,” McKay said. “I was always bragging about my major and how awesome it is.”
Zarske was not surprised that McKay took the middle school math teaching position at Byers when it was offered.
“Kendall knew she wanted to teach, and has been committed to that pathway since she joined the e+ major,” Zarske said. “She loves engineering and the engineering applications of math, and she loves to teach. So she didn’t have questions about what her next step would be upon graduating.”
At DSST, the use of technology is pervasive, woven through the curriculum and pedagogical methods, preparing students for an increasingly tech-driven world. Its use is not about “teaching for the test,” but about conveying ideas and theory in a way that will endure. McKay said she has fallen into this teaching approach, melding into the DSST system.
“When I’ve gone to observe her, one thing I appreciate is her thoughtfulness about what she’s teaching,” Zarske said. “She’s a very reflective teacher, thinking about what she can learn from each class so she can find the best way to get the content to her students in the next class.”
McKay cites her e+ education as one of the main drivers of her adaptability. Many of the classes are design- and project-based, which focus students’ energies on learning how to work in a group and lead when necessary.
Lauren Berger, McKay’s mentor teacher at Byers, can attest to McKay’s preparedness for the classroom.
“I was amazed from day one at her ability to jump into new situations. She learns very quickly and is very systems minded,” Berger said. “Kendall showed a lot of courage to just jump in and take risks.”
She added that her co-workers are excited to have McKay continue on at Byers.
“Kendall brings a lot of authentic positivity,” Berger said. “Sometimes seasoned teachers can lose some of that optimism, so I’m excited for Kendall to bring her fresh vigor to our school. Someone who is humble and eager to learn and grow helps the whole staff adopt a similar mindset.”
The e+ major is taking steps to continue the trend started by McKay. While engineering jobs pay more than teaching, the value of having an engineering trained math, science or engineering instructor in the classroom with eager youth is clear. To inspire more engineering students to choose the teaching track, Engineering Plus offers a five-semester teaching scholarship from the S. D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation, providing $31,000 towards students’ last five semesters, including their student teaching.
“The reason we do this is because we realize there is a pay difference between engineering and teaching,” Sullivan said. “Those first few years out of school graduates are trying to pay down debt and get anchored in their post-college life; the CU Teach Engineering scholarships play a role in helping alleviate debt for teaching-bound engineering students.”
Sullivan is quick to note that the DSST schools have been generous with CU Teach Engineering, providing outstanding math and science teaching opportunities and mentoring for every CU Teach Engineering student. CU is grateful for this partnership.