November 12, 2008

A native of northern China, Donghong Sun graduated with a BS in Chemistry from the University of Beijing in 1992 and moved to the United States to pursue her PhD in Chemistry at Columbia University. After graduating from Columbia, Sun conducted postdoctoral work a Rutgers University and landed a position working on pesticide formulation for Rohm and Haas. She decided to leave industry after her first child was born. Following a discussion about Rider University’s Graduate-Level Teacher Certification Program (GLTP) with the mother of one of her daughter’s classmates, Sun decided to pursue a teaching career.

Currently in her second year as a chemistry teacher at Montgomery High School in Skillman, Sun is one of hundreds of second-career seekers who have participated in the Rider University’s GLTP. Graduates who have completed all the requirements of an approved program in teacher education are eligible to receive a New Jersey Certificate of Eligibility with Advanced Standing, which authorizes the individual to seek and accept offers of employment in New Jersey schools. After a year of mentorship on the job in a New Jersey school, the certificate becomes valid for the lifetime of its holder.

“The Rider program came so highly recommended and it opened up a whole new way of thinking about teaching for me,” recalls Sun. “I like the fact that the program puts the student at the center of active learning versus sitting passively taking notes which was the norm when I was a student,” Sun added.

“There is certainly a shortage in science teachers and we are trying to bridge the gap,” stated Sandra Alberti, Director of the Office of Math and Science Education in New Jersey, “We recognize the need for our students to have a strong foundation in life sciences in order to contribute to the future well being of the economy. That’s why we are promoting best practices in math and science education and have already mandated that New Jersey students must now take biology as one of the core sciences courses in high school.”

The primary goal of the Office of Math and Science Education is to strengthen skills of all students, increase the number of math and science graduates from colleges and universities and develop initiatives that will increase the number of certified math and science teachers. “Ultimately, our goal is to develop a world class workforce by assisting students and job seekers in obtaining the skills and education that are needed in a competitive economy,” added Alberti. Rider University’s GLTP program is just one of the programs that encourage individuals to pursue teaching careers in math and science. Launched in 2003, the New Pathway to Teaching in New Jersey (NPTNJ) also offers a statewide alternate route teacher preparation program for candidates who already possess a bachelor’s degree and certificate of eligibility. Candidates take NPTNJ coursework at local NJ Community Colleges using a curriculum created jointly by New Jersey City University and the Community Colleges. NPTNJ includes a pre-service component that incorporates classroom management techniques, lesson planning, and on-site classroom observations. Once individuals receive a teaching position, they take coursework essential for the development of excellent teachers.

“Of the nearly 400 individuals who have participated in the 2007-2008 NPTNJ program, approximately 28% represented math and science teachers,” stated Darlene Yoseloff, Director of School Relations, Middlesex County College.

Liberty Science Center is also focused on strengthening the quality of science teachers. Through its Gateway program, Liberty Science Center offers a unique approved Regional Training Center for alternate route science teachers. Alternate route science teachers who have their first school contract in the state are eligible to participate in the training. The majority of the training is completed during an intensive 20-day summer program before they enter their first teaching assignment. Participants observe and teach lessons in a local summer school program and receive onsite coaching visits once they are actually working in their school.

Mary Ellen Clark is Executive Director of the Central New Jersey WIRED Bio-1 initiative. Bio-1 focuses on retaining and expanding high quality jobs in the biosciences sector, as well as exciting young people about the biosciences and laying smooth education and career pathways to increasing bioscience workforce development through training and transformational graduate programs.

Why Would You Study Chemistry?

August 4, 2008

Every year in the spring, I talk to journalism undergraduates about possible career paths they might take, and one piece of advice I always impart is that they should major in anything but journalism. As you can imagine, that nugget doesn’t go over well with the faculty that teaches these journalism students, but it’s something I believe fervently.


Invariably, the students then ask me what my major was. Chemistry and biochemistry, I tell them, with minors in physics and math. The next question is then, “What does that have to do with being a writer?” That’s when I tell them that chemistry is an ideal major for a budding writer because the coursework and lab work builds strong thinking, analytical and organizational skills, which is something that most journalism programs, by and large, don’t emphasize.


Becoming a writer was not something that crossed my mind when I decided to major in chemistry in college, but knowing what I know today about my chosen profession, I would take the same path again if I had it to do all over again. Chemistry isn’t called “the central science” for no good reason – a good education in chemistry can prepare you for a job in a wide range of fields.


Careers in chemical research span the widely known – synthetic chemist, medicinal chemist, polymer chemist, materials scientist, analytical chemist, geochemist, and the like – and the more obscure. In a cursory search on the Web, I found job posting for cement chemists, packing technologists, ethnobotanists, paleoclimatologists, astrobiologist, forensic scientists, and fragrance formulator, all requiring a minimum of a B.S. in chemistry.


Then there are the “non-traditional” jobs open to chemists. I found job postings for science writers, environmental and patent attorneys, technical writers, software designers, restaurant test kitchen researchers, information specialists, government policy analysts, and of course, science teachers that all requested applicants to have a chemistry degree.


I even found a job posting for a special effects coordinator that required applicants to have completed a minimum of two years of graduate school in chemistry. Maybe MacGyver is making a comeback! Or perhaps the CSI franchise intends to be more realistic when it comes to staging lab scenes.


 I’m sure that there are many more unusual professions open to those of us with training I chemistry. In fact, I’d like to hear from you if you are using your chemistry degree for something out of the ordinary. Leave a comment by clicking on the “Comments” link at the end of this blog entry. Let’s see just how creative chemists can be when it comes to career development. I’m sure the results will be surprising.


This article was written by Joe Alper, a freelance science writer and technology analyst in Louisville, CO.

Career Renewal: Answering a Call for Teaching

March 17, 2008

Teaching high school chemistry has turned out to be a calling for me. However, if someone had told me ten years ago that I would be teaching today, I probably would have looked at them square in the eyes and laughed.

Upon graduating from college, I had big ideas of making lots and lots of money. I had just received a degree in chemistry—one of hardest and most respected sciences at Tougaloo College. I knew that something was out there, and I was the right person to fulfill that need.

In my first job, I worked as a research and development chemist for Alcoa Industrial Chemicals. This was an exciting career. I had the opportunity to make new products, take part in the building of new processes, and actually see what was going on inside those tall tanks I used to see and wonder about as a child. I was actually doing what I thought I wanted to do. In this position, I gained a vast amount of experience in managing people, finances, and other resources.

Wanting to build on my strengths and broaden my horizons, I made a career transition to Reckitt-Coleman where we specialized in household cleaning agents. I was responsible for making sure that everything we made was doing what it was supposed to be doing. I was also responsible for seeing that the quality lab was being managed in an efficient and effective manner.

As time progressed, I tried my hands in the field of neurophysiology, studying how the brain grows and responds to certain stimuli or lack of stimuli. Nonetheless, a voice inside of me kept saying that I was supposed to do something else with my life and my talents. In all of my experiences, people always saw me as a teacher. I just never saw this in myself. I never wanted to be bothered with anyone else’s children, but I felt that I could no longer ignore this burning desire to see what everybody else was talking about. I kept asking myself, why I couldn’t see the teacher in me that everyone else saw. It was puzzling, but I overlooked those feelings of doubt, prayed about it, took some tests, and applied to become a chemistry teacher.

I also took time to evaluate and partake in the Hach Scientific Foundation’s Second Career Chemistry Teacher Program which furnishes scholarships to talented chemists interested in pursuing either a Masters in education or teachers certificate. As they say, “the rest is history.”

Since I have started teaching, I have never been happier with my career. I now feel as if I am really making a difference. I now see that my life was not supposed to be about me, but about educating a generation of children that needed me. I can now experience the joy of seeing young children move on through life and be successful.

Before getting into education, life was a routine, but now it is exciting and filled with new challenges on a daily basis. I encourage anyone to accept the teaching challenge, and I dare you to change a life for the better.

This article was written by Kevin L. Gaylor, a chemistry teacher at Jim Hill High School in Jackson, Mississippi.