WWU students, faculty attend NSTA conference in Denver

Conference provides  an opportunity  for future teachers to attend science-specific professional learning, hear from guest speakers and meet with leaders in the field
From left, Gracie Deerwester, NSTA's Flavio Mendez, Josie Melton (SMATE), Anna Manry, Bailey Hadley, Bart Bruce-Lewis, Lauren Prescott, Libby Plaugher, Ariela Ikezawa, Abbey Gray, Will Selset. Front: Debi Hanuscin (SMATE) and NSTA President Julie Luft.

Nine members of Western’s Student Chapter of the National Science Teaching Association (NSTA) represented Western at the NSTA National Conference on Science Education, held March 20-23  in Denver, Colorado.

NSTA is the largest organization in the world committed to promoting excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all.  The conference provides  an opportunity  for these future teachers to attend science-specific professional learning, hear from guest speakers and meet with leaders in the field. 

“One of the biggest benefits of the conference is getting to meet others who share a passion for science teaching,” said Debi Hanuscin, NSTA chapter advisor and WWU professor of Science, Math Technology Education and Elementary Education. “Students get to see themselves as part of the larger profession and to understand the role they can play in promoting inclusive and equitable science teaching and learning for all students.” 

Seven of the members received NSTA’s scholarships for preservice/new teachers, which covered registration fees for the conference. 

“We are so grateful that NSTA is willing to provide ample scholarships to our chapter, it makes us feel so valued in this profession. Attending NSTA as a preservice teacher is an unforgettable experience and helps us to feel set for the future!” said Libby Plaugher, a scholarship recipient. 

“My favorite part of the conference was attending a session regarding social, emotional learning in middle school classes. Oftentimes we forget the importance of our students' emotional connection as they age,” said Anna Manry, a preservice science educator at Western and scholarship recipient. “I couldn't have attended this conference without the help of the NSTA scholarship.”

The Western students co-presented at a session for student chapters and advisors, and WWU senior Ariela Ikezawa, a BAE student in Environmental Studies, minoring in Museum Studies, presented her research at this year’s poster session. 

WWU Senior Ariela Ikezawa shares her research with other science educators at the NSTA Poster session.

Ikezawa’s presentation focused on work she conducted as a part summer research internship with the Washington NASA Space Grant Consortium. Her study focused on epistemic injustice, which occurs when certain kinds of knowledge are privileged in ways that maintain inequities, such as by dismissing particular forms of participation and ways of viewing the world

“As a teacher, I hope to help every student believe they can be successful in science,” she said. “By studying how museums and other spaces tell the story of science, I aimed to learn how to better serve and encourage all students to see themselves as future potential scientists.”

Belonging and Community

NSTA was thrilled to welcome the next generation of science teachers.

“This is where they begin their journey as professional science educators,” NSTA President Julie Luft said. “We want them to know you belong here.”   

That sense of belonging was important for Bailey Hadley, who plans to teach elementary school, but never really saw herself as a "science teacher."

“I love that I have been able to grow my confidence through NSTA. I have learned that science teaching is not scary and I can approach my science teaching in a way where I’m not going to know all the answers and that’s okay, I never thought that was possible before joining the NSTA chapter,” she said. 

WWU student Gracie Deerwester, a senior majoring in General Science, said the experience has helped her feel more confident.

“Attending the conference allowed me to meet with and learn from established science educators. I gained valuable knowledge that I can take with me throughout my education and into my career. I was also lucky enough to meet with other preservice chapters and learn their leadership strategies. All of these opportunities helped me grow in my confidence as a future teacher and a current officer of the chapter,"  Deerwester said.

Deerwester now serves on the leadership team for the NSTA chapter along with Lauren Prescott, Will Selset, and Anna Manry, who hope to present at next year’s conference. 

For Bart Bruce-Lewis, a General Science BAE student who is currently student teaching full-time, attending the conference gave him the burst of energy and enthusiasm he needed to keep moving forward.

“NSTA has given me so many different opportunities to move forward in my life, professionally and personally. I have felt more confident in my student teaching, learned so many different teaching styles and ideas from the sessions, and on top of that, I feel comfortable with my peers to talk shop and create life-long friendships and professional connections,” Bruce-Lewis said.

This was the second time attending the NSTA conference for Abbey Gray, who has been the Western representative to the preservice teacher national leadership council at NSTA. 

“Attending the NSTA conference for the second time reaffirmed my passion for science education,” Gray said.  “As a future educator, I am committed to continuous learning and growth, and I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in such events as a preservice teacher. The conference offers abundant opportunities for learning and connecting with like-minded individuals who share the common goal of crafting exceptional science experiences for their students.” 

Gray is already planning to apply for a Maitland P. Simmons award for new teachers to help fund her travel to future NSTA conferences after she graduates. Her position will be taken over by Lauren Prescott, who attended a special pathway of sessions for chapter leaders at the conference.

“Serving on the National Preservice Council has let me have an active role in NSTA’s commitment to supporting preservice teachers, regardless of their content area. This year’s pathway sessions were focused on building support for preservice teachers at their university through NSTA student chapters and bridging the gap between pre- and in-service teaching,” Prescott said. 

All students interested in science teaching and learning are invited to join the NSTA chapter. For more information about the chapter, visit their page on the Western Involvement Network