Combining Art and Physics, University of Virginia Education Student Wins Knowles Science Teaching Fellowship

April 26, 2006 — Curry School of Education student Katherine “Katey” Shirey came up with a unique way to illustrate the concept of harmonic motion: the graduate student, who has undergraduate degrees from the University of Virginia in art as well as physics, built a large structure of laminated, curved plywood that rotated, shined a spotlight on it, put a projector screen behind it, and — voila — the shadow of the swinging sculpture illustrated sine waves. With that kind of innovative thinking, Shirey has won a 2006 Knowles Science Teaching Foundation Fellowship.

The five-year fellowship will pay for Shirey’s tuition next year, her second and final year in the master’s of teaching program at the Curry School, and continuing professional development. Worth up to $100,000, the fellowship covers the period from teacher preparation to eligibility for tenure.
Shirey, an Arlington native, is the fourth Curry student to win the prestigious science teaching fellowship in three years. Rachel Love and Holly Ristau, who graduate this year, and Heather Welch, who graduated last year, also won the fellowship. Applicants must go through a rigorous, multistage process to be among the 10 to 15 students selected annually from a national pool.

Associate professor of science education Randy Bell, who teaches science methods, said of Shirey, “her deep conceptual understanding of physics has allowed her to use creative approaches to teach difficult concepts and to field students' questions confidently. Her dual major in physics and art has provided the perfect background for our program, which emphasizes the nature of science as a foundation upon which students can achieve scientific literacy.”

Shirey said she came to the Curry program to learn the standards of good teaching and different effective methods for teaching science and using technology in the classroom.

She decided to combine teaching high school science with her passion for art last year when she had an Aunspaugh Fellowship in the University’s art department.

As a teaching assistant, she also pushed her sculpture students toward being more thoughtful and intentional in making art, she said.

“In trying to illustrate physics in art, I want to communicate knowledge,” she said. “I know I’m passionate about art. I want the students to feel my excitement.” Shirey would like to teach underprivileged youth, she said. “I want to reach those who might’ve given up on school. If the same old thing hasn’t worked, maybe giving them something new will hit home.”

The Knowles Science Teaching Foundation, established in 1999, supports individuals and programs designed to encourage and sustain young scientists as they dedicate their lives to teaching other young people and to becoming leaders in the field of education. This year, more than 100 students vied for the fellowship; 13 were awarded for science and 10 for mathematics, according to executive director Angelo Collins.