UW Undergraduate Academic Affairs E-news
October 2009  |  Return to issue home

From Undergraduate Research to Teach for America

Christine Masuda
Christine Masuda

Christine Masuda, ‘08, a neurobiology grad, Levinson Scholar and Undergraduate Research Symposium participant, now teachers high school science through Teach for America at Chavez High School in Houston.  

As an undergrad, Christine’s research project studied a transgenic mouse that expresses human catalase (an antioxidant enzyme) that is targeted to the mitochondria. This transgenic mouse demonstrates a 20% increase in life span and decreases in age-related pathology in the heart and possibly skeletal muscle. While there is research under way focusing on heart and skeletal muscle, her project specifically related to the brain, which had not yet been examined. She credits her experience as a Levinson Scholar with solidifying her desire to become a physical-scientist and pursue research as a career. "[It offered] me a tremendous opportunity to exercise more independence in my undergraduate research project. I was able to see the project through from beginning to end with continued funding for supplies. I gained a taste of experimental design, scientific method, and troubleshooting procedures." 

While on the path to preparing for medical school, Christine’s plans took an unexpected turn. "Teach for America representatives marched into my biology class one day and told us about the education gap in America. They showed us data highlighting the link between economic status and quality of education. I thought about it for several months and ended up applying, postponing my medical school applications."

Christine started teaching high school science in fall 2008. Ready to make a difference in the lives of students and spark within them a love for science, she was faced with a real challenge. "I had problems with classroom management. Students would cuss and throw things, refusing to do something as simple as changing seats. I would get excited that a student finally understood a concept, only to find the next day that s/he was arrested for drugs."

Christine has gained experience and grown in her abilities as a teacher, "Thankfully, my second year has been a chance at redemption. This year I come home every day telling my roommates ‘Day (1 or 5 or 20) of owning the classroom.’ I enjoy the moments when I feel a student has become invested in reaching for success. I love it when they slowly realize that yes, they can solve the problem and that they aren’t bad at science. It also excites me that someday some of these young freshmen could be my future colleagues. One of my students told me yesterday about his dream of becoming an anesthesiologist."

And while she is enjoying her work as a teacher, her experience as a student at UW prepared her in unexpected ways, "Certainly my UW education prepared me for the material that I teach. More importantly, the rigor of my classes helped prepare me for the rigorous lifestyle of Teach for America. This week I averaged five hours of sleep because of lesson planning and grading, which isn’t all that different from college."

Christine is currently applying for medical school, and should be hearing soon about interviews. Until then? "I’ll be praying hard."

October 2009  |  Return to issue home

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