Meet the new generation of science and math teachers

How the UC Santa Cruz Cal Teach program is sparking a passion for science and math in grades K-12.

September 23, 2015


UC Santa Cruz alumnus Michaela Tondi who earned a BS in Marine Biology and a MA in Education, is now a 6th and 7th grade life and earth science teacher thanks to the Cal Teach program.

Do you remember your favorite school teacher, that one energetic instructor who transformed math problems into gratifying puzzles and science experiments into thrilling undertakings? 

Meet UC Santa Cruz alumnus Michaela Tondi (Crown ‘14) who has sparked a love of learning at middle schools across Santa Cruz County. Thanks to the Cal Teach program, a University of California-wide initiative that places science, math, and engineering majors into public schools, Tondi is engaging hundreds of kids with a subject she is deeply passionate about.

Tondi is one of the 600 UCSC students who has participated in CalTeach, an initiative designed to increase the number of highly qualified math and science teachers. Retaining and recruiting teachers in these fields is a major issue for schools across California, but and CalTeach is changing that.

Tondi is an example of that positive change in action.  She says, “My experience [in the Cal Teach program] has motivated me to inspire students to pursue a career in science.”

Making a difference, 10 years on

For almost a decade, UC Santa Cruz students and graduates have been making an impact in K-12 schools through the Cal Teach Program. As program director Gretchen Andreasen says, “Our Cal Teach graduates are filling up math and science departments at middle and high school throughout the region.”

Statewide, over 1400 Cal Teach alumni from 8 UC campuses have pursued careers in public school districts throughout the state.  At UCSC, more than 120 Cal Teach participants have earned a teaching credential after completing an undergraduate degree.

Collaboration as interdisciplinary education

What makes the Cal Teach program distinctive at UCSC is its collaborative curriculum between the Division of Social Sciences’ Education Department and the Division of Physical and Biological Sciences. UCSC students compliment their undergraduate science or math coursework where theory, research, and practice are integrated into their major.

Tondi, who earned a BS in Marine Biology and a MA in Education, firmly believes this joint partnership is what makes the program at UCSC so special. The Cal Teach program also provided her with an internship in Rita Mehta’s research lab, ELVer, an experience that gave her a holistic appreciation for science education. 

As a Cal Teach intern in Mehta’s lab, Tondi studied the function, structure, and diversity in animals in a unique hands-on learning experience that culminated in an educational exhibit at the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History. Tondi was tasked with creating a methodology for preserving organisms in resin casts and incorporating the molds into a lesson plan about body shape diversity in fishes.  

“The exhibit allowed me the opportunity to educate adults and children alike about the form and function relationship that fishes exhibit in body shape. This unique Calteach internship to work in a research lab was invaluable in my preparation of becoming a successful science teacher.”

Tondi adds: “I have seen, that with hard work and creativity, a hands-on module can be developed.”

Learning by doing

What does it mean to have a hands-on curriculum?

Fellow Cal Teach alumnus, Andrea Wayte (‘10, Porter) says, “I try to make science fun by incorporating labs and team building exercises. Students remember most from being involved in their learning. I try to minimize the amount of time I spend talking at them, and try to produce activities that will help them learn a concept on their own. This year, I had my students create their own experiment in order to practice the steps of the scientific method.”

In addition to support the program receives from the state of California and private funders, Tondi and Wayte also received support from the Mark Bruce Fellowship, a competitive scholarship UC Santa Cruz offers to students wanting to pursue a career path as a science or math educator.  Distinguished Social Sciences Alumnus, Stephen Bruce (Cowell, ’79) and his wife Mona, established the Mark Bruce Fellowship program in honor of Stephen’s late brother, Mark Bruce.

Tondi says, “It is a complete honor to be selected as a Mark Bruce Fellow. I’m thankful to the alumni who donate to this fellowship to assist future math and science teachers with their finances. During the Master’s program, I was lucky enough to focus solely on the school work and learning management techniques in my student teaching position without having to have a part time job.”

Tondi is now a 6th and 7th grade life and earth science teacher in Moraga, CA and Wayte is a science teacher at New Brighton Middle School.