RIVERSIDE, CA - The California Teach-Science & Math Initiative (CalTeach-SMI) at UC Riverside celebrated its 18th anniversary with an inaugural alumni reunion during last month's Homecoming festivities.
Established on UC Riverside's campus in 2006, CalTeach-SMI is a community of STEM undergraduate students exploring and preparing to become future STEM educators through partnerships with local school districts that provide the future STEM teachers with access to middle and high school classrooms, where they are mentored by California science and math instructors.
Leslie Bushong, the founding director of CalTeach-SMI, said that the event gave program alumni the chance to reconnect and draw their fond memories from being in the program. "They had a chance to go down memory lane," said Bushong. "They had tremendously different experiences through their pipeline to becoming teachers, but the common similarity is that they all bonded. It's really heartwarming to see so many of them come together."
The program's mission is to promote STEM education and to increase the pipeline of future science and mathematics teachers in California, teachers like Savannah Sprague '18, a program alumna who majored in Mathematics for Teachers of Secondary School (MTSS) at UC Riverside before earning her teaching credential and master's degree.
"I wouldn't be where I am today without the UCR CalTeach-SMI program," said Sprague. "Starting my freshman year, we were in the classroom [and] we were funded to go to conferences. I was an office assistant and a peer mentor, and just building that network made me the teacher I am today."
Sprague currently teaches high school math in the West Covina School District, where she also serves as chair of the speech & debate team. Sprague was named Teacher of
the Year last year in recognition of her contributions to her school and students, an achievement for which she credits CalTeach-SMI.
"This program, and all of the help it gave me and the connections I've made," reflects Sprague. "It goes back to starting at CalTeach-SMI during my first year at UC Riverside."
The CalTeach-SMI Homecoming reunion event featured updates about how the program continues to make a difference in supporting STEM teachers. Bushong also asked a couple of CalTeach-SMI students to share their experiences preparing for their future careers within the program.
"We wanted to give a full-circle view, from beginning to present, of how we as a program continue to deliver that same harmonious feeling of a community and how we're continuing to have alumni benefit from our program," said Bushong. "That tradition has continued."
A highlight of the program was a surprise $7,000 donation made by a UC Riverside alumnus Steve Clute '71. Bushong stated that the donation will help students pay fees and tuition, and finance professional development opportunities such as conferences, field work and networking opportunities.
"This generous donation will enable our students to not worry about funding, and to be able to do what they need to do to build their resumes," said Bushong.
The reunion also gave current program members like Riley Hunke '24, an MTSS major, the chance to reconnect and network with program alumni.
"It was great!" said Hunke of the event. "I love seeing everyone's faces, and everyone's so happy to be here! It was a good opportunity to meet some people who were in CalTeach-SMI in the past, get that networking piece, and see that I can be successful [because] other people have been successful."
Hunke credits the program with helping him prepare for his career as either a middle or high school mathematics instructor. "Before I was in the program, I didn't know anything at all," remembered Hunke. "Everyone helped me make my plan, meet other educators and future educators, and get organized and prepared for my career."
According to Hunke, CalTeach-SMI serves an important purpose beyond preparing future STEM teachers for the classroom. It gives students who are still considering whether they would like to teach an opportunity to explore different options.
"Even if you don't know whether you want to teach," explains Hunke "getting involved in the program allows you to dip your toe and and see...maybe this is something I do want to do."
Bushong is eager to see future generations of CalTeach-SMI students continue to make an impact on the UC Riverside community and beyond, and credits donors with helping realize the program's vision. "Events like these are the very reason why they continue to donate," said Bushong. "They see the impact. Our students are not only equipped to teach a subject, they're also very genuinely warm people who want to contribute to the community."
For Steve Clute, donating to the program ensures that CalTeach-SMI students will be able to continue enriching the lives of future STEM students both inside and outside of the classroom.
"They are so driven, and they can make such a difference in the community, state, and the nation in health, in medicine, through the environment," said Clute. "They can do so much that'll help the planet, and it's real."
For more information about the California Teach-Science & Math Initiative (CalTeach-SMI), visit https://smi.ucr.edu/.