Lincolnshire native earns prestigious science teaching fellowing
Natasha Novokhovsky is one of 14 teachers from Illinois to earn a science fellowship. | Joe Cyganowski~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 8, 2013 2:02AM
LINCOLNSHIRE — Back in 2004, Natasha Novokhovsky would never have guessed that nine years later she would be pursuing a career as a science teacher.
The Stevenson High School alumnus certainly wouldn’t have guessed that she would be one of the few selected from hundreds nationwide to join a prestigious fellowship program, either.
Last September, however, the former Lincolnshire native was one of the 14 teachers from Illinois chosen to be an Astellas-NSTA Fellow in the 2012-13 National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) New Science Teacher Academy.
Though she earned her bachelor’s degree in neuroscience at the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2008, and later her master of arts in teaching in 2011, Novokhovsky said that she was undecided about her career path until sophomore year of her undergraduate studies.
It was when she took a class in neuroscience that she developed her love of science.
Later when she decided that love would manifest itself in the form of a teaching career.
“Teaching allows me to explore my own passion and share it with others, and that’s the exciting part for me” Novokhovsky said of her journey to find the right path.
Novokhovsky said she was nervous to teach high school chemistry at University of Chicago Woodlawn Charter because the University of Chicago’s graduate-level Urban Teacher Education Program (UTEP) she completed in 2011, prepared her more for a role as a high school biology teacher.
“I was specifically trained in biology instruction and pedagogy, but we didn’t really get into chemistry…so I panicked because I had to teach chemistry this year, and I felt like I needed more support beyond what I was already getting.”
When a classmate from her UTEP program said that she enjoyed the NSTA’s New Science Teacher Academy program and suggested Novokhovsky apply the following year, Novokhovsky jumped at the opportunity.
Novokhovsky said that while she still meets with a mentor every other week through UTEP, the fellowship has given her the additional support she’s needed in the form of a larger network of colleagues to relate to and a large journal archive to reference for more teaching ideas, tips and research.
In April, she will be flown out to the NSTA’s 2013 National Conference on Science Education in San Antonio, Texas, where she’ll have the opportunity to discover new strategies for effectively teaching science, hear the latest information on science education and network with colleagues from around the world.
“Applying to this program and getting in was hugely helpful because I have access to not just one person, but an entire forum of people that respond within minutes of any question I might ask,” Novokhovsky said.
Damaries Blondonville, assistant executive director of the NSTA’s New Science Teacher Academy, said that the list of new fellows in the program wasn’t released until January of this year to ensure it contained the most accurate information.
The NSTA is a large professional organization that’s been promoting excellence and innovation in science teaching for more than 60 years; the New Science Teacher Academy is its more recent endeavor founded in 2007 to help reduce the high attrition rate the science teaching profession has been experiencing.
According to the NSTA, a study conducted by Richard Ingersoll in 2003 revealed that nearly 50 percent of beginning teachers leave their jobs within their first five years—which is something that the NSTA hopes its academy will reduce through mentoring and offering access to various other professional development resources.
“It’s inspiring to know that at this moment, someone else is teaching the exact same thing I’m teaching,” Novokhovsky said. “Now I feel like I’m part of a bigger community, and that I could teach chemistry again and be decent at it.”