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Karen Woodruff

Director

Endeavor STEM Teaching Certificate Project

And - Teacher Educator

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You’ve got this! Find strong role models. Find mentors who believe in you. Find collaborators and be a collaborator to others.

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WHAT DO YOU DO?

I am a STEM Teacher Educator. I support teachers in reaching their goals of becoming the best STEM educators they can become by providing opportunities for professional learning that are meaningful and student-centered. I love what I do because I work with the most innovative and dedicated professionals in the world – the individuals inspiring the next generation of explorers and problem solvers.

The most important part of my work is collaborating with others, listening to new ideas, and thinking outside the box about strategic, meaningful relationships that benefit teachers and students. Through collaborations with scientists and engineers at NASA, I am able to provide a bridge between innovative research and classroom inquiry. By working with colleagues who love science as much as I do, I help find ways to bring authentic real-time data to students so they can ask great questions and be critical problem solvers. I’ve been involved in partnerships with amazing people at NASA, NOAA, NSF, Alaska Native Science Commission, OCEARCH and several marine science organizations. As a STEM Teacher Educator, I recognize the deep learning that occurs when students are empowered to be the data analyzers, question askers, and design creators. Nothing makes me happier than getting an email or call from a teacher I have worked with who can’t wait to share their student’s enthusiasm for learning.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS FIELD?

As someone with many diverse interests, I explored a variety of paths early in my career before I found education. Starting at a very young age I have always loved being outdoors and always enjoyed exploring, tinkering, building, and learning about the world around me. I had a variety of experiences in different fields, each which contributed to my skillset. I pursued theatre arts design and ecology as an undergraduate and upon graduating worked as a research assistant and naturalist. It was through these experiences that I realized teaching was the professional that would allow me to continue exploring the natural world and applying my science skills while working with young people. I went on to earn a Master's degree and Ph.D in education.

HOW DO/DID YOU TACKLE OBSTACLES?

When faced with obstacles I find it helpful to thoughtfully consider all aspects of the circumstances and find the best path forward. This includes talking to people I trust and taking time to identify best options. In my experience 90% of obstacles can be overcome by sitting down and talking through challenges with others. We are social learners and problem solving is done best collaboratively.

WHAT DO YOU LOOK AT & THINK, "I WISH YOUNGER ME WOULD HAVE KNOWN THIS WAS POSSIBLE?"

I wish a younger me had more confidence to believe that I could be a scientist and contribute to our understanding of how the world works in my own way. I look at young people today, including my own children, and I want to infuse them with confidence and strength. They are capable of amazing things when they believe in themselves and have the confidence to step forward, challenge the status quo, and do what they believe is right.

WHY DO YOU LOVE WORKING IN STEM?

I love working in STEM because it is the culmination of all my diverse interests. I am able to work with amazing people and see the intersection of their work in interesting ways through my own efforts. STEM is not one thing. It is not one person or organization. It is all of us looking at our disciplines without walls, without siloed structural barriers. It is truly interdisciplinary.

BEST ADVICE FOR NEXT GENERATION?

You’ve got this! Find strong role models. Find mentors who believe in you. Find collaborators and be a collaborator to others. There will be people at some time in your life who tell you can’t. They are wrong. You can. Lead with your strengths and challenge yourself to learn from other people. Always be kind. Surround yourself with diverse people who can broaden your lens on the world. You’ve got this!

INSPIRATION

My sister is my role model - always kind and never wavering even in the most difficult times. Her experience as a student and a young woman inspires me every day to do better as an educator and a person.