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K-State Today

November 20, 2019

Science educators celebrate National STEM Day at KSU-NSTA event

Submitted by Patrice Scott

Front row, from left: Jamie Waechter, Marvin Wade, Sarah Peterson, Dean Mercer and Samantha Pilcher. Second row, from left: Subin Chun, Kimberly Staples, Mitch Saffle, Alex Brown and Jacob Nichols

National STEM Day provided the ideal opportunity to bring science education alumni to campus for the student chapter of the KSU-National Science Teaching Association, or KSU-NSTA, kickoff event of the 2019-20 school year. 

Alex Brown, chemistry teacher at Manhattan High School, and Subin Chun, chemistry teacher at Junction City High School, addressed the 30-plus students, faculty and district administrators at the Nov. 8 event. 

Dean Debbie Mercer welcomed the students and speakers and applauded Kimberly Staples, associate professor of curriculum and instruction and KSU-NSTA faculty adviser, on what will be a memorable year of activities promoting STEM education. 

"Developing effective science teachers of STEM requires an ecosystem comprised of factors beyond the classroom," Staples said. "We recognize the role of collaborations as critical in this process — with K-12 schools, graduate students, our K-State Community, outstanding mentor teachers, NSTA and science organizations, and yes, our alumni in STEM fields." 

Brown discussed his teaching approach. 

"One of the things I try to get my students to understand is just because you aren't going into science, doesn't mean STEM isn't important for you," he said. 

Brown said STEM courses offer students critical skills — collaborating, problem-solving, putting a plan into action, testing that plan, evaluating outcomes and making adjustments — and mastering those skills will transfer to any professional work setting. 

He also tells his students something surprising. 

"It's OK to be wrong," Brown told the future teachers. "In science, we are wrong way more than we are correct. If we quit every time we were wrong the first time, we wouldn't have discovered very much of anything." 

Chun discovered he wanted to be a teacher after changing his major three times — first was pharmacy then biochemistry and finally, science education. 

"Switching my major to education was the best decision I have made in my life so far and it was grounded in the decision to go to K-State," he said. "I want to give a shout-out to the program because it made me who I am." 

Chun was featured in the college's web series "Crash the Class" in September where Staples and the college's film crew crashed his class by filming his students and bringing him some classroom supplies from his wish list. 

But it was the South Korean conscription program of mandatory military service that enhanced his ability to connect with his students. 

"Before accepting this position, I didn't realize how big of a military community Junction City had, and I was actually able to relate to my students because of my prior military background," Chun said. 

Like Brown, he hopes to encourage his students to think. 

"My biggest goal that I tell all of my students from day one is 'I don't care if you enjoy science or not,'" Chun said. "Through my class, if I'm able to get you to at least think that science is actually kind of interesting, I've achieved my goal,'" Chun said. 

Staples said it was a high-energy event celebrating science education. 

"As always, it's a great day to be a science teacher prepared at Kansas State University."