Together in Life and Teaching

Amber and Jared Anderson reading a book with their two children.

During the fall semester, UWM’s Office of Adult and Returning Students honored a number of students who’d returned to school at a nontraditional age and succeeded well academically. Here is the story of two of those students – a married couple working together toward a degree in science education.

Three years ago, Amber and Jared Anderson drove to Drake University in Iowa and back in one day to hear well-known scientist and educator Neil deGrasse Tyson speak.

That’s one indication of how passionate the Andersons, both now seniors in the School of Education, are about teaching science.

Both are nontraditional education majors, married with two children and juggling family and classes to pursue teaching careers.

For Amber Anderson, hearing Tyson speak passionately about the need for science literacy in America helped her decide what she wanted her teaching focus to be.

“That was really for me, a personal tipping point, because I was really unsure of what subject I wanted to teach. Jared was dead set on science from the beginning, but I was a little unsure.”

The Andersons, who both graduate in May, spent some time after graduating from high school in 2007 finding their career paths. They were married and had one son when they came to UWM in 2012.

Both had worked other jobs after high school, but were looking for careers that inspired them.

“I was the general manager of a store and had worked as a cable technician,” says Jared, “but I was finding none of those jobs gave me fulfillment. I didn’t feel I was doing anything that ‘mattered.”

“We wanted our jobs to be meaningful,” says Amber, “so we could look forward to going to work and making a difference.

“Wesley was born in February 2012, and it kind of gave us that extra motivation to put a plan in place. We share a lot of the same values and interests so that’s how we ended up sharing a major, a car and the same school schedule.”

Their days – and nights – are busy with classwork during the day and two children in the evenings. Wesley is 4 and his sister, Bay, is 1. Jared also works part-time as a tutor through the SPARK early literacy program (A School of Education partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee.) Amber worked with that program for two years.

Family is important to them and they wanted their children to be close in age, but adding one more child while they were still in school has proven more difficult than they thought.

“We knew it was going to be tougher, but we underestimated the challenge,” says Amber. “This has been a very difficult year.”

“We often find ourselves not even starting homework until 9 or so,” says Jared. “We’ve stayed up until 4 a.m., just to get up at 6 with the kids to get them to school. That’s almost the routine, rather than the exception.”

Faculty and staff at UWM have been incredibly supportive, both agree. Senior academic adviser Andrea Azarian was a big factor in their decision to come to UWM, says Amber. “She was so unbelievably helpful from day one.”

Jared lauds professor Craig Berg and senior lecturer Ray Scolavino in the MACSTEP 2.0 science education program for their academic support. “They’re knowledgeable, they make science very understandable; they show you how you can make a difference as a teacher and how you go about teaching science.”

They have also benefited from UWM’s Life Impact Program, which provides financial and other support to students who are parents. They are Life Impact scholars, which has helped them a great deal, especially since Amber’s financial aid ran out. “I don’t know how I would have been able to finish this year without that program,” she says.

The support they get from Life Impact in dealing with childcare and other issues is phenomenal, she adds. “They’re really like a second family. You walk into that office and they help you keep your perspective; they encourage you and offer guidance. They understand what you’re going through.”

When they graduate, the Andersons are planning to look for positions in urban schools. “One of the reasons we chose UWM was because of its emphasis on culturally relevant teaching and urban education. A lot of education programs don’t focus on that enough.”

Teaching science is one of their goals, but, like Tyson, they also want to teach children to think critically and find their own paths, says Amber. “We’re interested in educating kids to be well-rounded individuals, helping them discover their own strengths and weaknesses and improving their logical thinking. Science is a great medium for that.”

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