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Andrea Szegedy-Maszak Bard College Class of 2016

Andrea Szegedy-Maszak entered Bard with little prior exposure to science. She became hooked on science in her first year, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in biology in May 2016.



First, tell us a bit about how you got involved with science education during your time at Bard.

I had my first exposure to science education and science outreach during the Citizen Science program in January of my freshman year at Bard. My group’s civic engagement project was to teach local sixth graders how to isolate DNA from a strawberry, and I loved the excitement that came with helping students have firsthand experience with scientific inquiry and discovery. As I became more involved with both the Bard biology department and the Center for Civic Engagement, I began to participate in and facilitate similar programs, focusing especially on providing low- or no-cost, quality science education to students in the Hudson Valley. Last year, I was thrilled to be accepted into the Bard MAT 3+2 program– as I complete my senior year I’ve also started to take graduate classes to complete my Masters of Arts in Teaching (MAT) in biology, and will finish that degree after one post-grad year.

When did you become interested in science?

I had never touched a pipette before participating in Citizen Science my freshman year– I didn’t take AP Biology in high school, my school didn’t have the resources for me to learn lab techniques, and I generally just didn’t consider myself a “science person”. Citizen Science offered me a complete turnaround from that attitude, something that is unique to Bard and for which I’ll always be grateful. After having such a positive experience as a student in the Citizen Science program, I applied for the program’s Teaching Fellow position the following year because I wanted to facilitate that change in thinking for my peers. Just as participating in Citizen Science as a student allowed me to thrive in my (newfound) field of study, the Teaching Fellow program gave me excellent training and mentorship to become a more confident educator. I learned more about preparation, collaboration, and all of the work and drive that is required of a teacher during my two years as a Teaching Fellow than I ever thought possible, and it only solidified my decision to enter an educational field after I graduate.

Talk about your senior project in biology.

My senior project focused on microbial fuel cells, batteries that are powered by bacteria capable of electron transfer. The first phase of my project was to optimize the microbial fuel cell for classroom application, using isolated strains of Shewanella-type bacteria and carbon source substrates to maximize the Coulombic efficiency and power output of the fuel cells. My primary goal was to create a fuel cell with higher efficiency and easier setup so that it could be employed easily and consistently in a classroom setting. The second phase of my project consisted of developing lesson plans for inter-disciplinary applications of the fuel cells at middle and high school levels.

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I understand that you are connecting your research in biology to your future as a teacher. Can you describe that?

As I started to weigh options for my senior project at the end of my junior year, I knew that my ultimate career goals were not research-oriented but definitely focused on the classroom. I’m lucky enough to have Brooke Jude as an excellent advisor for both my normal academics and my senior project, and she suggested a project that would bridge my interests in microbiology with my plans for a career in education. Thanks to the unique design of this project, I can use real, relevant research to optimize a teaching tool that I can use in a future classroom.

What do you think makes the batteries an effective teaching tool?

Any lesson, both in and out of STEM subjects, becomes more effective with the addition of a tangible, student-facilitated project. The highly customizable nature of the microbial fuel cells makes them an ideal candidate for this type of hands-on learning– they allow a student to ask questions about the factors that can affect the batteries’ performance and, from there, provide an efficient model system to manipulate. The goal for my project is not to create the perfect fuel cell, but instead to streamline the setup of a fuel cell and clarify some of the variables that can affect its performance. Through my experience teaching science, I’ve found that frustration can end a project before it starts; I want to minimize the potential for frustration so that students can truly take the project in whichever direction they find most interesting.

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Imagine a future student of yours who will not become a scientist. What would you like him or her to take away from your class?

As I see it, a truly effective science education cannot and should not be limited to the field. I want my students to feel confident enough to ask difficult questions, analyze varied sources of relevant information, consider as many different possible solutions as possible, and reevaluate their own opinions and beliefs in the face of new evidence. In a scientific context, that process is called The Scientific Method– it also happens to be an excellent way to think critically about any situation one is faced with, in or out of the classroom. My most repeated statement when I’m working with students who are not necessarily comfortable with science is, “It is OK to be wrong!” That can be a difficult concept to grapple with when a student is used to consistent success, but it’s crucial to remember regardless of scenario.

How has your experience teaching children during college affected your goals for life after Bard?

Thanks to the varied teaching experiences that have been provided to me as an undergrad at Bard, I have had the unique opportunity to weigh the advantages and difficulties associated with different teaching styles and approaches. I’ve worked with a wide variety of ages and found the range that works best for me, and have been able to refine my pedagogical practices and values through real teaching practice rather than theory alone. This is a huge privilege, and one that I’m grateful for any time I’m in a teaching role.