Sam Settelmeyer first realized what it would take for him to become a teacher during assistant professor Dedra Demaree’s physics class, in which he was a peer facilitator. Settelmeyer was good at physics – he had been inspired to learn the subject by his high school physics teacher in Cottage Grove, Ore., who had passed on both passion and curiosity to his students. But teaching it was something else altogether.
“That was my real-time birth by fire, students asking questions,” Settelmeyer says. “I had to be intentional about answering them. I learned to think on my feet a lot better. I already knew a lot about the material, but going back through and trying to teach it is a different story.”
Being intentional and imparting something of value to students isn’t the only quality Settelmeyer wants to achieve as a teacher. He wants to be like the instructors who have inspired him the most – the ones who are passionate about their subjects, the ones who are more facilitator than lecturer, the ones who adapt to students’ questions and needs.
He’s in the right place to learn. Settlemeyer is a physics major with an education option, and plans on continuing at Oregon State in the science and math education master’s program with the goal of becoming a high school teacher. “I had an industry internship in high school, and I decided I wasn’t interested in that kind of job,” Settelmeyer says. “Teaching became more of a focus. I liked the idea of doing different day-to-day things and talking to people, but still having a connection to math and science. I like variability, and students will provide that for me.”
Since his first year at OSU, Settelmeyer has sought experiences that go beyond the classroom, starting with being a peer facilitator in Demaree’s class. He worked again with Demaree on a grant-funded collaboration between Oregon State and Linn-Benton Community College, the idea being to create more of a community among physics professors. Settelmeyer got to listen to their conversations, and hear about the challenges and successes the professors had in the classroom. He’s volunteered with Oregon State’s SMILE program and Discovery Days – programs to help underrepresented young people develop their interest in math and science. He’s observed a middle school Earth science classroom to get a prerequisite for the master’s program.
“During my undergrad I’m trying to focus on learning. I’m trying to be a sponge,” Settelmeyer says. “I consider a lot of the information I have to be my arsenal, my knowledge base of teaching.”
Currently, Settelmeyer is working on his thesis for the University Honors College, an examination of how student motivation differs depending on the topics discussed in Physics 211, a class Demaree teaches. Settelmeyer wants to understand why students are excited about learning some topics, like Newton’s laws, but not others, like valences. More importantly, he wants to see how he can change that.
“During Spring term 2012, we will implement my work and see how the students respond,” he says.
In the future, Settelmeyer, who is also studying Spanish, would like to try to take a term abroad. “It’s another awesome thing OSU offers,” he says. “It’s a certification in addition to the master’s program on how to teach English as Second Language students. I want to be dropped somewhere Spanish-speaking, and go figure it out.”