A West Albany science teacher has been selected for a five-year fellowship from the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation, the only one of 37 Fellows for 2017 to be tapped from the Pacific Northwest.
Lucas Risinger, who starts his second year with West Albany High School this fall, teaches biology and physical science. The fellowship invests $175,000 over a five-year period to ensure that high-caliber beginning teachers remain in the profession. This funding is spent mostly on professional development along with some funding for classroom supplies and a small stipend.
"The beautiful part is they allow me to choose how I would like to spend the professional development money. In other words, I can choose which conferences I would like to attend," Risinger told the Democrat-Herald. "The best part are the connections I make. I am now connected to some of the leading math and science teachers in the world where I am invited to attend trainings by them."
Risinger said the application process for the grant was "intense and highly competitive."
"The first round I had to write three essays around science content knowledge, teacher leadership and classroom pedagogy. I also needed three letters of recommendation," he said. "The second round of the application involved an hour-long phone interview."
After Risinger was chosen as a finalist, he was flown to Philadelphia for an in-person multiday interview that included both group and individual interviews with experts in the fields of leadership, classroom pedagogy and science content knowledge. "I was assessed on all levels," he said.
Risinger said evaluations continued even during mealtimes, which were seated by name assignment. He learned of his selection about a month after the final interview weekend.
The first two years of the fellowship are to be spent developing personal science knowledge and using it to create deeper learning opportunities for students. During that time, Fellows are also supported in becoming a "community of inquiry" with others in the field, according to the Knowles Foundation website.
During the next two years, Fellows learn "increasingly sophisticated ways to examine their teaching, classroom culture and student learning using many kinds of data," and are helped to bring colleagues at their school into this work. The last year is spent reaching out to the professional community.
Risinger has already begun some of his outreach. He's writing a grant to begin a professional development community made up of science teachers in the Corvallis and Greater Albany Public Schools districts. Earlier this summer, he helped lead a professional development session on engaging students in new science standards, which he co-presented with a teacher from Beaverton.
"We hope to lead a week-long seminar on this same topic next year for other teachers across the country," he said.
Risinger earned a Bachelor of Science in biology from the University of Oregon in 2013 and a Master of Science in science education from Oregon State University in 2016. Before becoming a teacher, he worked as a scuba diving instructor in Hawaii.
"I am beyond proud and grateful to be a Knowles Fellow and am excited to use this opportunity to both develop myself as an educator and also to help benefit my community," he said. "The professional development in content skills, teacher pedagogy, and leadership skills have already proven to be invaluable to me."