Chemistry Education major will ‘guarantee’ jobs, ‘well-rounded’ education

A new chemistry education major at South Dakota State is tailored to cater to students who plan to teach high school chemistry but still graduate within four years.

Students who wanted to teach high school chemistry before the chemistry education program was approved by the South Dakota Board of Regents this summer had to earn a full chemistry degree with a teaching certificate.

This combination would take almost six years with a new one-year student teaching requirement set forth by the Teaching, Learning and Leadership program, said Matthew Miller, professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

“What we’ve done is create a degree that makes sense in terms of the content knowledge that they [students] are getting, but it also is going to work for the students to get them through the quantity of time they should be expected to get through,” Miller said.

Chemistry education is similar to a chemistry major, but cuts a few higher-level required courses. This saves extra coursework for students in the program that might not apply to their work as educators.

The new major still requires a teaching certificate, but counts as a minor required by the College of Arts and Sciences.

Making students work toward a degree for so many years seems too hard on students, Miller said.

“It was just impossible,” he said.

But T.J. Mead did it in four and a half years. She’s finishing her teaching certificate by student teaching at St. Thomas More in Rapid City.

Mead isn’t majoring in chemistry education but rather a full chemistry degree with a teaching certificate. The combination allows her to have a backup plan if teaching doesn’t work for her.

“I really like chemistry and liked doing the lab work but didn’t like the lack of interaction with people all day,” Mead said. “So I like the ability to affect people’s lives and influence them in different ways and I think education is the best way to do that.”

Although Mead said she wouldn’t have taken the chemistry education major route if it was offered when she started at SDSU, she thinks it’s a good alternative to spending another year at SDSU.

“I think that a whole year of student teaching is going to deter a lot of students [from pursuing a teaching certificate],” Mead said. “It’s already hard for most students to do one semester without another on top of it.”

The cost of student-teaching without being able to take a second job will strain a lot of students, she said. She’s also disappointed that the chemistry education major will cut some higher-level courses.

“Taking higher level classes actually helps me as an educator,” Mead said. “It’s nice to say you have more of an expert knowledge in your discipline. As I’m looking for a job, that’s one of my big selling points. I don’t have a lot of experience leading a classroom, but I have more experience with my content area and that’s not something every teacher can say.”

Although the cuts limit chemistry expertise, Miller said the education students receive with a chemistry education major is still “strong.” Mead said the courses in the chemistry education major still give students enough knowledge to pass the content areas education exam.

“You get that degree and you can go in a lot of different directions,” Miller said.

Not only does the new major give students a background in education, but Miller encourages students to pursue courses in other areas like physics and biology to make them more marketable.

Mead is one of two students enrolled in chemistry and education at SDSU. Alex Herald, a junior, is also majoring in a regular chemistry degree with a teaching certificate.

He decided on his major last spring after being a chemistry major. He thought majoring in a regular chemistry degree and getting a teaching certificate would be more advantageous than the chemistry education major since he was mostly through the program. He’ll also have research or other opportunities with a full chemistry degree to fall back on.

Right now, it’s hard to pursue chemistry paired with education, Herald said. The new chemistry education major will make it easier for students to move through the program. It will save students from attending classes that may not pertain to their teaching job in the future while still giving them a background focusing on education and chemistry.

“I feel like they’ll be a lot more well-rounded in teaching,” Herald said.

The need for good teachers is evident across the nation, Miller said. According to the American Chemical Society, there are “severe shortages” of chemistry teachers in some parts of the country.

“You can guarantee you can get a position,” Miller said.

According to Miller, the chemistry education major is a way to prepare students to for a future in teaching with the necessary background.

“If we’re going to progress in this society,” Miller said, “we need to give the students a strong background and to do that we’ve got to have good teachers out there.”