Head of the class: URI graduates first Noyce teacher scholar

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Sarah Zawatsky will teach science at Woonsocket charter school

KINGSTON, R.I. – May 29, 2015 – Sarah Zawatsky just left the classroom, but can’t wait to get back in.


This fall, the University of Rhode Island graduate will start a new job as a science teacher at a charter school in the working-class city of Woonsocket. And that’s exactly what she wants.


Her success at URI – she graduated in May with degrees in education and biology – is linked to a federal scholarship for students who want to study education, as well as science or math. After graduation, they agree to work in an urban school.


The Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship was funded by a $1.2 million grant URI received from the National Science Foundation in 2013. Zawatsky is the first Noyce scholar to graduate from the University.


“We’re very proud of her,” says Anne M. Seitsinger, interim associate dean for academic affairs in the College of Human Science and Services. “She is deeply committed to teaching students in urban areas. The Noyce scholarship made it possible for her to pursue her dream.”

The Noyce grant is a win for the University – and the future of science and math in Rhode Island. Math and science teachers are desperately needed in schools today to prepare young people for a labor market dominated by jobs in science and technology. The scholarships inspire students like Zawatsky to study science and math in college – and teach in those fields after graduation.


Zawatsky’s love of science took root as a kid. While other girls were playing with dolls, she was digging for worms in the backyard of her East Providence house. She loved walking in the woods, looking at the veins of leaves through the sunlight. Her mother, Jennifer, taught her how to sow seeds, recognize bird song and appreciate the beauty of nature.


At 16, Zawatsky knew she wanted to teach to get others charged up about science and give back to the community. After graduating from East Providence High School, she enrolled at URI, her first choice. She applied for the Noyce scholarship her junior year, receiving $10,000 and another $10,000 her senior year.


Student teaching, she says, was a great experience – at Nathaniel Greene Middle School and Classical High School, both public schools in Providence. She taught life science and biology. The classroom teacher was present, but Zawatsky was in charge.


“Student teaching is stressful, and sometimes heartbreaking, but it’s a big growth experience,” she says. “You learn to forgive. It’s rewarding to see the students evolve.”


With a 3.6 grade-point-average and excellent recommendations, she landed a job teaching middle school science at Founders Academy, part of Beacon Charter High School of the Arts, a place where she can also pursue her love of photography. She’ll be responsible for 45 students in three science classes.


URI professors and other Noyce scholars throughout the country will be available, online and in person, to offer guidance and support, if she needs it. That’s another perk of the Noyce program.


“I’m a little nervous, but also really excited,” says Zawatsky, a recipient of the 2015 University Academic Excellence Award in Biology. “I’ve been super well-prepared by URI.”


She’s looking forward to teaching kids about the joy of science. “I’ve always loved science – the hows and whys and unknowns. I’m fascinated by the mechanical ways of the universe. There’s a magic and beauty to science I can’t wait to share.”


Next year, four more Noyce scholars are expected to graduate from URI.


“It’s a wonderful program,” says Seitsinger, “for Rhode Island and the country.”


Pictured above:

Sarah Zawatsky, 21, of East Providence, the first Robert Noyce teacher scholar to graduate from the University of Rhode Island. Zawatsky, who graduated in May, will teach at a charter school in Woonsocket. She is also a professional photographer. https://www.facebook.com/SarahJZawatsky

Photo by Jessica Shoe.


Left to right, URI education professor Jay Fogleman; URI senior Zoe Rogers, URI graduate Sarah Zawatsky; URI professor Anne Seitsinger, URI senior Janelle Haire; and Rachel Naylor, a URI graduate student. The group attended the Noyce Northeast Conference in March in Cambridge, Mass.

Photo courtesy of Anne Seitsinger.