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Grad School Options

AFstem17AFstem17 Registered User Posts: 2 New Member
I'm an AFROTC cadet (junior college student) that will be commissioning in 2017. I'm a civil engineering major and hope to maintain my at least my 3.6 GPA. I don't think it would be reasonable to shoot for 4.0 these next semester because being a crosstown cadet and Resident Advisor at my school. My ultimate goal in terms of education is to help promote STEM education in grade school and particularly underprivileged areas. I'm not sure whether I should shoot for getting a masters in engineering/physics and public policy or just shoot for the masters in public policy after my time in the Air Force. I plan on doing at least 10 years of service as a developmental engineer or wherever the air force will take my career.

What really like some advice on:

What type of graduate program should I pursue
What schools have good programs for my interest
Criteria for admissions (work experience, gre scores, essays, recommendations)

I go to a state school that's supposedly "up and coming" but I know I'm at a disadvantage to students from Ivy leagues and tons of experience. Advice on what I need to do would be great.

Replies to: Grad School Options

  • juilletjuillet Super Moderator Posts: 12,550 Super Moderator
    Why public policy? Do you want to work on issues of educational policy? The first thing that came to mind given your career goals was getting an M.Ed in science education and teaching. So I'm going to give you my opinion and then give you the career stuff.

    So IMO, education is one of the few fields in which people with little to no education experience try to run things. You don't see non-MDs rushing in trying to tell surgeons how to do surgery or advise the AMA how to license and educate their medical doctors; they let the MDs figure that out. State licensing boards have veteran physicians that help figure out the requirements. But people who have never taught are often attempting to develop policies for teachers; they're the ones who set the standards and design the tests. And when veteran teachers speak out, they're often drowned out or downright contradicted by people who have no idea what it's like to teach. I think the most effective standpoint you can have, if you are interested in aiding in educational policy, is actually getting teaching experience. That way you are sympathetic to the needs of teachers while still advocating for evidence-based policies.

    You could be an engineer for the 10 years in the AF or whatever and then get an M.Ed and teach science in the classroom. There's a special program called Troops to Teachers that facilitates a transition from the military to the classroom for servicemembers with at least 8 years of military service. My high school physics and calculus teacher was a former engineer, and I think that made him the best possible teacher. He wrote his own problems that were relevant to the field of engineering, which made it easy for us to understand how the math was applied (and made it more interesting). My high school was 100% African American and mostly working-class, and yet he sent many of us on to engineering majors at his alma mater (Georgia Tech). Black folks are underrepresented in engineering, so the fact that he was able to encourage so many of us to go into the field was pretty great. I think he also won an award for having a particularly high proportion of students who passed AP Calc AB with a 3+.

    After your stint as a teacher, you could influence STEM education in a variety of ways:

    1. You could get a PhD in science or math education and go teach and do research on science education at a university. You'd train new teachers and also could do research on the best ways to promote science education in K-12 schools. You need at least 3 years of experience as a teacher to do this.

    2. You can then go into policy. You could get a separate MPP, but you could honestly just use your experience and M.Ed and transition into the field.

    Now here's more straightforward answers.

    You can't do science teacher education (teaching new science teachers how to teach) unless you have science teaching experience yourself, but that's one thing you could do. You could get a PhD in science or math education and try to get a faculty position in a school of education at a university. You would then teach classes to new teachers (BS and M.Ed level) to train them to teach, and do research on whatever part of science or math education you were most interested in. Right now there's a lot of interest in methods of science & math education. Not sure where the field will be in 20 years (which will be about the time it would take you to do 10 years of engineering work + 3 years of teaching + 6 years of a PhD).

    You could get a general MPP at a program that has a focus on educational policy. Or you could get an MA specifically in educational policy. There are many schools with this focus - Stanford, Harvard, UW-Madison, Vanderbilt, Teachers College at Columbia, Michigan, UPenn, UC-Berkeley, Penn State, Michigan State and UCLA are some of the best ones. NYU and GWU also have programs in this field. I'm not sure that you need to go shell out $100K for a fancy program; you could probably go to an educational leadership & policy program at a public four-year college in your home state (or move to, and work in, a state with a great public program - although that's a gamble of course) and still segue into the field.

    You could also potentially get an MPA. MPAs do have some focus on policy as well. You would just have to find one with a focus on education.

    Admissions will be based on 1) undergraduate grades 2) work experience 3) GRE scores 4) a statement of purpose and 5) recommendation letters (in no particular order).

    You're not at that big of a disadvantage compared to Ivy League students. Especially if you plan to work for 10 years first, your undergrad will be much less important than your work experience. But I think programs will be very curious why you chose to transition from traditional engineering work in the military to K-12 science education, so I would try to stay involved in K-12 science education activities while you are in the service. Volunteer with a local ROTC detachment, or volunteer to judge the local science fair, or mentor in a science internship program - do something.
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