Campus Partnership Brings First Teaching Credential Candidate to Berkeley

Tina Kuang at Sather Gate on the UC Berkeley main campus

When Tina Kuang arrived for classes this semester, she became a first for Cal Teach Berkeley. Never before had an undergraduate come from Merced to Berkeley for a teaching credential as part of a new partnership between the University of California campuses.

The two schools have joined forces to support the statewide Cal Teach goal of increasing the number of highly qualified science and math teachers in urban and rural schools. Now, Merced students will have the same opportunity to earn a teaching credential while completing their undergraduate STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] degrees that's been available through Cal Teach Berkeley for several years.

"The challenge has been that we don't have a school of education," says Mayya Tokman, the assistant professor of applied mathematics who's the faculty director for Cal Teach at UC Merced, explaining how its absence prevents her university from awarding a teaching credential. "This is a natural partnership."

For Tina, the partnership is fortunate in its timing. A senior majoring in physics, she'd been uncertain where she would complete her teaching credential. Then she learned she could finish coursework for her natural sciences education minor as well as a remaining physics requirement at Berkeley this spring and move seamlessly into the credential program in the fall.

"I get a teaching credential from Berkeley and also get to start my dream job a semester early," Tina says. "How often can someone do that?"

The intention is to have many more students from Merced follow Tina. Mayya says, "The obvious benefit is that students will graduate with a credential as well as a STEM degree. Having this opportunity for students will also be an enormous help in their careers. One of the obstacles to retaining teachers is a lack of a support network. This program will be very useful in making contacts."

Learning alongside the Merced students will offer similar benefits to those in Cal Teach Berkeley. Elisa Stone, director of Cal Teach Berkeley says, "For Berkeley students, there's an opportunity to expand their network, understand what it's like to teach in a rural area, and know other excellent and passionate teachers in the state. Also, a lot of our students are from the San Joaquin Valley and will go back there to teach."

Producing more teachers for the San Joaquin Valley is a major goal of the collaboration. Mayya explains, "This program will help ensure our schools get highly qualified teachers. We'll choose students who are motivated to succeed, willing to work hard, and want to give back to their communities. The city of Merced is talking about opening a STEM high school, and they're looking forward to hiring our graduates."

Tina has completed fieldwork in Merced schools, but her roots—and the likely start of her teaching career—lie in the San Francisco Bay Area. A graduate of San Leandro High School, she traces her interest in becoming an educator to kindergarten, when she watched her teacher with fascination. In high school, she helped friends with math homework and tutored in an after-school program at the Cox Academy in East Oakland.

"I find happiness in helping others. My main goal in life is to make an impact on a person's life, and I feel the best way to do that is through teaching," Tina says.

Though she enjoys physics and is completing a thesis based on her research on shear-thickening fluids, Tina hopes to eventually teach math. Aside from teaching at the K–12 level, she's also thinking about earning a master's degree in education and perhaps becoming a university lecturer.

For now, Tina is gaining new insights into teaching through the joint Berkeley–Merced program. In her Cal Teach classes, Tina says, "I'm absorbing what the professors do and thinking about how I'll incorporate it in my own class. They're able to make even a three-hour class fly by."

Of course, being the first student to participate in any program can also present challenges. Though Tina describes herself as independent and outgoing, she's had to adjust to being a new student and navigating a campus that's both unfamiliar and much larger. Nonetheless, she heartily recommends that other Merced students come to Berkeley for a teaching credential.

"We're excited to have Tina go through the program this spring so we can focus on her successes and smooth out any logistical challenges," Elisa says. "We also look forward to welcoming more students who are eager to take on new challenges and passionate about teaching and developing a network of other teachers."