June 22, 2009 — He hasn't always known it, but Noah Egge is a natural educator.
The University of Virginia graduate education student loves learning, and he loves sharing what he has learned – be it in a classroom, a field lab, or a study-abroad course in Greece. He enjoys building relationships, and he believes that life's greatest rewards come from investing in people.
Those qualities, combined with his mastery in science, have earned him one of this year's prestigious Knowles Science Teaching Fellowships, worth up to $150,000 over five years to exceptional early career teachers.
Egge was the perfect candidate for the Knowles Fellowship, said his Curry School graduate adviser, Randy Bell, an associate professor of science education. "He is an experienced science practitioner, he is creative and bright and enthusiastic about learning himself and he has a passion for teaching," Bell said.
Egge is the sixth Curry School science education student selected for a Knowles fellowship since 2002. He will complete his master of teaching degree in May 2010, then plans to teach high school earth science "probably in Virginia," he said.
The fellows offer hope in an education system where half of all teachers leave the profession within the first five years and many are teaching outside of their areas of expertise, said Angelo Collins, executive director of the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation.
"We see teachers as change agents. By investing in early-career teachers, KSTF is nurturing dedicated, life-long educators," he said. "The quality of high school mathematics and science education is essential to ensuring American competitiveness through innovation."
Egge said the fellowship will help him surmount obstacles most teachers face, not the least of which are financial.
"Support from the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation strengthens my ability to attend the issues that matter most, which will ultimately make the greatest difference to the students I serve," he said.
Egge, who grew up in Alexandria, first considered becoming a teacher as he completed his undergraduate degree from U.Va. in environmental sciences in 2003. After graduation, he tested the waters through a one-year position teaching English in Thessaloniki, Greece.
When he returned to Virginia for his master's degree work in environmental sciences in 2004, Egge moved into the International Residence College as a graduate adviser. "I wanted to live in community rather than being a student off in my own little corner," he said.
Now as its scholar-in-residence, Egge still lives in the college, which houses nearly 300 residents from 36 different countries. "I love it there," he said. He stays involved by teaching classes and participating in college social events.
He returned earlier this year from leading his fourth spring break cultural excursion to Greece. Undergraduate Betsy Graves described it as being "filled with hiking, cooking and learning about the country's vibrant past and present." (Read more about their trip here and here).
After working for a couple of years toward a doctoral degree in environmental sciences, Egge spent a second full year working in Thessaloniki. The time away gave him an opportunity for reflection, and he realized that even in his doctoral program, what he enjoyed most was teaching labs and relating with students. "I had a lot of creative ideas for teaching, and I got excited about it."
He came to see himself as an educator. Last fall, he entered the Curry School secondary science education program to pursue a master of teaching degree.
"I love science," he explained. "Earth science, especially, because it integrates knowledge from many science disciplines. And I like making connections in my head and sharing them with other people.
"My interests have always been in the environmental realm. In many ways, I am the product of the environmental movement in the early '90s. Being exposed to the great outdoors at a very young age also fostered a deep love and appreciation for nature."
Family vacations to national parks out west and years spent in the Boy Scouts also played a role in his development, he said. "By the time I was 10, I could tie more knots than I knew what to do with and survive a night out in the woods with nothing except my pocketknife and some flint and steel," he said.
His greatest ambition is to "provide the next generation with problem-solving tools, techniques and knowledge that will serve them for a lifetime." He added, "I like to think that through my work with young people, giving advice and sharing what I've learned, I can help motivated students to make the world a better place."
The 2009 Knowles Fellows represent 32 states and are earning teaching credentials at some of the nation's best universities. Seventy-seven percent of the fellows demonstrate a commitment to public service through volunteer work, and many have served as volunteer teachers in their communities and abroad. Thirty-one percent have changed careers, turning in their lab coats and microscopes for a classroom of students and whiteboards. Forty-five percent want to give back to their communities by teaching in their hometowns, and 29 percent were inspired to teach by a family member in the profession. All Knowles Fellows share the drive to engage and empower young minds through math and science education.
In 2009, the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation awarded eight fellowships in biological sciences, 14 in mathematics and 13 in physical sciences. Currently, the foundation supports 135 teaching fellows, including the 2009 cohort, who as a group, will impact nearly 14,000 students in the 2009-10 academic year alone.
The Knowles Science Teaching Foundation was established by Janet H. and C. Harry Knowles in 1999 to strengthen the quality of science and mathematics teaching in U.S. high schools.