A Q&A with Jen Lee, Woodrow Wilson New Jersey Teaching Fellow

Jen Lee

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Pictured is Jen Lee (left) with Arthur Levine, president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, and Jarred Phillips.

Jen Lee is a graduate student in the master of science in teaching program and a member of the first cohort of Woodrow Wilson New Jersey Teaching Fellows at Rutgers University–Camden. Rutgers–Camden is one of five state higher-education institutions participating in the highly competitive program, which recruits both recent graduates and career changers with strong backgrounds in science, technology, engineering, and math, and prepares them specifically to teach in high-need secondary schools.

Each Fellow receives $30,000 to complete a specially designed master’s degree program based on a year-long classroom experience. In return, Fellows commit to teach for three years in the urban and rural New Jersey schools that most need strong STEM teachers. Throughout the three-year commitment, Fellows receive ongoing support and mentoring.

Hometown: Hammonton, N.J.

Student Teaching Assignment: Lee is currently teaching Honors Chemistry and co-teaching Advanced Placement Chemistry with her mentor teacher, Melanie Rose, at Pemberton High School. She will take on two additional classes during the spring semester.

Education: She graduated from Madison Central High School in Old Bridge and earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Rutgers University–New Brunswick in 1996. Lee also received an associate’s degree in computer programming from Atlantic Cape Community College in 2014.

Additional Teaching and Work Experience: Lee teaches chemistry as an adjunct professor at Atlantic Cape Community College in Mays Landing. She worked as a chemist and technical writer in the food and pharmaceutical industries for more than 18 years, as well as an IT technical support engineer, with additional credentials in programming and coding. Her career also has included roles as a database designer, web and graphic designer, peer trainer, animal shelter volunteer, and youth theater leader.

jenlee1What has your Fellow teaching experience been like so far?

The experience has been great. I have been really enjoying getting to know the students. Since most of them have never been exposed to chemistry before, I look forward to introducing them to the world of chemistry, and seeing them just as excited as I was in high school.

What your immediate and long-term teaching goals?

My immediate goal is to become a “highly effective” teacher before my clinical student-teaching year is over. I want to start out as one of the best high school chemistry teachers in New Jersey.

My long-term teaching goal is to become a highly sought-after chemistry teacher, perhaps even teaching effective science teaching strategies to other teachers. I always strive to be the best that I can possibly be, and I’m confident that I will reach my goals.

What do you love about chemistry?

I love how chemistry explains how the world works at the most basic, molecular level. Chemistry is all around us, as literally everything we touch is made up of chemicals.

What first drew your own interest in chemistry?

My high school chemistry teacher, Roger van Hise, had a major impact on me. Although he was quiet and reserved, he had a certain smile and a twinkle in his eye when he spoke about chemistry. From him, I came to love the organization in everything, and the way that chemistry just made sense of the world. I loved the buzz that the class would get when he did a demonstration, and the way that he let us try to figure out – chemically – what was happening. I wish I could find Mr. van Hise to thank him now.

Were you looking for a career change when you applied to the fellowship program?

Yes, I had been staying home for the past few years, working periodically as a database consultant and web designer, and taking care of my young children. I was starting to look again for a fulltime job, but discovered that most of the pharmaceutical jobs that I was able to find were too far for me to commute.

I decided to return to school to combine my passions for chemistry and computer programming. In January 2013, I enrolled at ACCC, and secured a part-time job in the lab, developing a chemical inventory database for their chemical stockrooms. About seven months into my courses, ACCC needed an adjunct professor to teach a summer class and I jumped right in, teaching the class as if I had been planning to the whole time.

The students could sense my excitement about chemistry, and it was somewhat contagious. I continued to teach as many classes as possible at ACCC, while pursuing an associate’s degree in computer programming.

What drew your interest in the Woodrow Wilson New Jersey Teaching Fellowship program?

I decided that I loved teaching chemistry, and decided to pursue a masters’ degree so that I could teach it full time. After looking into several graduate programs, I discovered the Woodrow Wilson New Jersey Teaching Fellowship. It seemed like a perfect match.

So what else do you want to share that might surprise people?

As a small child, and throughout my teenage years, I wanted to be a singer. I performed on stage as much as possible throughout middle school, high school, and even in community theater groups.

In 1998, I discovered the world of Sweet Adelines, an international organization for women, which promotes the advancement of four-part a cappella harmony through musical education, performance, and competition. I became heavily involved in the organization, and took on many different leadership roles, both musically and administratively. I loved performing, as well as educating people in many different capacities.

My family also fosters kittens for the Animal Welfare Association in Voorhees. It is really rewarding for me and my kids.

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