STEM Experts in the Classroom: 3 Questions with Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellow Derikson Rivera

May 03, 2017
STEM Experts in the Classroom: 3 Questions with Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellow Derikson Rivera
Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellow Derikson Rivera

The Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship was a 3-year fellowship for talented individuals with Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) backgrounds who are interested in teaching in high-needs secondary schools. Fellows come from a wide range of backgrounds, but share in their commitment to STEM education. Focused primarily on high-needs schools in New Jersey and Georgia, fellows are enrolled in a master’s degree program at a partner university while preparing for their teaching certification in science, math or technology education. Fellows receive a $30,000 stipend, tuition arrangements (varying by campus), and support and mentoring throughout their three-year commitment.

Current Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellow Derikson Rivera was a mid-career professional who decided to bring his STEM background into the classroom. Here, he shares some of his experiences from the first year of his teaching fellowship in Georgia.

1. What inspired you to apply for the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship?

Education is my passion, and prior to applying to the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship, I was exploring opportunities to become a secondary science educator. With a background as a skilled biotechnology researcher and computer technician, I decided to use my expertise to bring STEM to life in the classroom by becoming a highly qualified teacher. There are a number of viable pathways to obtaining a teaching license; however, I was particularly interested in the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship, which offers the opportunity to obtain a teaching license and a Master of Arts in Teaching simultaneously in one year.

Traditional teaching programs typically only place you inside the classroom after receiving all the theoretical courses as a student teacher. The Woodrow Wilson Teaching program provides the opportunity to be inside of the classroom from the beginning, allowing you to co-teach with a mentor teacher. This enables experimentation with different classroom practices and learning on the way.

The Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship also exposes fellows to high-need schools that can benefit most from highly quality teachers, while providing financial and professional support. The fellowship offers access to a network of fellows and professionals in the field that will support you through the program. This support continues after the completion of your degree through a mentoring program offered over the first three years of your teaching career.

These unique characteristics of this fellowship made the program attractive to me and strongly motivated me to apply to achieve my goal of becoming a highly qualified secondary science educator.

STEM Experts in the Classroom: 3 Questions with Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellow Derikson Rivera
Students exploring virtual reality technology in the classroom

2. What have you enjoyed most about your fellowship so far?

Currently, I’m close to completing my first year in the fellowship. In this year, and I have been able to work with three different school districts in my state by facilitating STEM summer camps for secondary and middle school students. Furthermore, I have learned immensely about instructional practices, lesson planning, analyzing student data and the logistics of the profession across districts in my state.

Here, I have been able to incorporate my STEM knowledge in my practice by blending them with evidence-based practices. For instance, I secured the 2016-17 Goizueta-Woodrow Wilson grant to incorporate virtual technology across STEM classrooms. This opportunity has enabled me to incorporate virtual reality headsets in my science classes at Meadowcreek High School. This has created a significant impact on my students’ engagement, by providing exposure to novel technology that creates memorable experiences that support learning.

As a bilingual educator and with the novel experiences this fellowship has provided me, I desire to work with underrepresented minority students to provide them exposure to the world of STEM education and its opportunities.

Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowships

3. What tips would you give others applying to the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship?

There are three main stages of the application process. During the first stage, it is expected that you will submit all your professional or academic credentials. I encourage you to share all significant experiences with the Woodrow Wilson Foundation where you have developed additional extracurricular skills that could be useful in your future teaching career. If you are applying to the program, it is already assumed that you are an expert in your field, so it is important to show your experiences that reflect skills such as leadership, tutoring, strong emotional composure and perseverance.

In addition, as an applicant, you need to have a sharp vision of why you desire to be an educator and how you expect to impact and support high-need schools. These schools are characteristically challenging, and familiarizing yourself with them will help you through later stages of your application process. During this second stage, you will be interviewed and given the opportunity to share your perspective about the issues affecting high-need secondary schools.

In the third and last stage of the interviewing process, there is the possibility that you will need to give a short lesson on a STEM-related concept. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes- just go for it. The foundation knows that you probably have little to no teaching experience, they just want to know you better!

The Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship is a long-term program that is going to offer you a fantastic opportunity to start your education career. The foundation would love for you to provide evidence that supports your willingness to commit to completing the program through the years. This is a crucial aspect of your application and will make it stand out from the rest. If you consider these tips and incorporate them through the application process, I think you will be a strong candidate for the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship Program.

Derikson Rivera is a Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellow that works with Gwinnett County Public Schools in promoting STEM education across classrooms in the state of Georgia. Derikson has English-Spanish bilingual proficiency and holds a B.S. in Industrial Biotechnology from the University of Puerto Rico. Additionally, he is part of Piedmont College M.A.T Secondary Science Woodrow Wilson teaching program. Prior to starting his education career, Derikson spent seven years as a researcher at the University of Puerto Rico, and has over 10 years of experience as a Computer repair technician Derikson recently secured the 2016-17 Goizueta-Woodrow Wilson Enrichment Microgrant for the implementation of virtual reality technology across STEM secondary classrooms, impacting underrepresented minority students in Georgia’s high-need schools. In his free time, Derikson enjoys listening to music, hiking and playing video games.

© Victoria Johnson 2017, all rights reserved.