a UC San Diego Alumni Publication


The Classroom Challenge


UC San Diego’s Department of Education Studies has, from its inception, married research to practice. It has promoted new education models and encouraged its graduates to build them within San Diego’s schools and communities. Ever on the cutting edge, it continues to produce teaching professionals who bring their own love of learning into classrooms and inspire a new generation to see college in their future.

Christian Wu, Sixth ’13, was planning on becoming a bio-engineer or a physicist before he took his first educational studies class at UC San Diego.

He was quickly influenced by the Department of Education Studies’ decades-old commitment to train teachers to work in underserved schools. As a science major, he was also intrigued by their goal to increase the standard of math and science teaching.

“I just fell in love with teaching, especially at schools like this,” says Wu, who spent two days a week this past academic year helping out in a geometry classroom at Sweetwater High School in National City, where 92 percent of the students are eligible for free or discounted lunches. “Coming from a multicultural background made me want to alleviate some of the issues these high-need schools have.”

Wu, who was born in Tijuana but is of Chinese descent, earned his undergraduate degree in pure mathematics with a minor in math education. He sees teaching as the way to make a difference, and plans to get his teaching credential and a master’s degree in education from UC San Diego, along with a bilingual certification.

“It’s my goal to stay in San Diego and teach in high-need schools,” he says.

The department began in 1972 as the Teacher Education Program, an interdisciplinary effort with a mission to prepare students committed to teaching in underserved communities. From the start, the program focused on multicultural and bilingual education, as well as the integration of research and practice.

Those founding goals have remained at the core of the program, which became the Department of Education Studies in September 2011, and have been since expanded to include an emphasis on technology and training teachers to help narrow the digital divide between wealthier and poorer schools.

The focus is even more important as educators face 21st-century challenges such as increasingly diverse student populations, a widening gap between rich and poor, and increasing demands on resource-strained schools.

“Our whole program is geared toward preparing educators for schools where there is the greatest need,” says Amanda Datnow, Marshall ’90, the department chair.

The department requires extensive field work from its students, through its Partners at Learning (PAL) volunteer program and through its affiliation with UC San Diego’s Center for Research on Educational Equity Assessment and Teaching Excellence (CREATE). With about 220 students enrolled annually in its master and doctoral programs, the department requires 400 to 600 hours of classroom experience, which is far above average.

Through PAL, the department sends 500 undergraduates a year, some planning teaching careers and some not, to volunteer at K-12 schools. Those students contribute approximately 20,000 hours of time annually. Much of that work is done in schools south of Interstate 8, but also in North County communities including Oceanside and Fallbrook.

“In PAL, we have students who are going to be doctors, and/or counselors,” says Luz Chung, Marshall ’91, M.A. ’96, a lecturer in the Department of Education Studies. “In understanding the community they’re going to be more culturally sensitive. They will be better doctors, better counselors.”

The students are also expected to become involved in the surrounding communities and that commitment to service is in keeping with Chancellor Pradeep Khosla’s vision for the University.

“At UC San Diego, we want to set an example for our community and our world,” the chancellor says. “We are committed to helping our local students obtain a UC San Diego education. That’s why we created the Chancellor’s Associates Scholars program.”

Khosla announced the new scholarship program for traditionally underserved students in April. The location he chose for the announcement—Felix’s BBQ with Soul restaurant near Lincoln High School—was significant.

“I love his vision,” says Cindy Marten, M.A. ’95, superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District, who earned her master’s in curriculum and instruction from UC San Diego in 1994. “He left La Jolla to come down to the inner city and talk to our parents, and he actually reached out to some of our most challenged students.”

Marten stressed that the relationship between her district and UC San Diego should not be a one-way street. “I can’t just go to the University with my hand out asking what they can do for us,” she says. “I want to know what kids need to know in that freshman math class at UCSD. We want college professors coming to our schools to tell us how to make sure students are ready. And, on the flip side, I’m going to the Department of Education to tell them what we need in order to make sure we get quality teachers in the classroom. It’s back and forth.”

The Department of Education’s outreach efforts are enhanced by its relationship with the University’s CREATE, directed by Mica Pollock, a faculty member in the department. Several other Department of Education faculty members are also affiliated with CREATE. Launched 13 years ago as the clearinghouse for UC San Diego’s efforts to reach out to the region’s public schools, CREATE helps to better prepare students for college.

Increasingly aware of the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics in K-12 schools in the region, the center launched the CREATE STEM Success in July.

“We marshal the resources of the University toward the schools,” says Susan Yonezawa, associate director of the center. “Some of these resources are in CREATE and some are elsewhere in the University. Our job is to work with the school to identify campus needs and to match them with programs that can fill those needs in sustainable ways.”

Yonezawa says CREATE and its new initiative will focus on research and a comprehensive approach to serve needs, and she named four key initiatives housed in CREATE: the San Diego Area Writing Project; the California Reading and Literature Project; the San Diego Science Project, and Math for America San Diego. “All four of those have networks of teachers across the county who receive professional development from their peers, master-teacher fellows and UCSD faculty,” she says.

In addition to its graduate students, the department, with 20 faculty members, typically has more than 190 undergraduates at a time pursuing a number of minors.

Datnow says the students come from diverse backgrounds. Some are from affluent neighborhoods with high-performing high schools and are getting their first look at inner-city schools, while others are first-generation college students from poor neighborhoods planning to return as educators.

Marten, the San Diego Unified superintendent, says that while she has an overall interest in “a very strong teacher pipeline,” she has an affinity for a certain type, regardless of background.

“I want locally grown teachers that come from our high schools and our universities,” she says. “Do you know what it means to have a teacher who went to Hoover, went to college at UCSD and comes back to teach at Hoover? They can say, ‘I grew up down the street. I know what you are going through.”

That is something like the path Roman Del Rosario, Ed.D. ’11, took to Sweetwater High School, where he has been the principal for three years. He grew up in south San Diego in the Montgomery High School area, but was bused to Hilltop High, also in the Sweetwater Union High School District.

Del Rosario, who earned his doctorate in education in a joint UC San Diego-California State University San Marcos program, worked in the Los Angeles Unified School District for eight years before returning to San Diego County’s South Bay six years ago, for an assistant principal position at Castle Park.

The Department of Education Studies alumnus believes his school’s partnership with UC San Diego is essential. “We have invested a lot of energy into establishing as many relationships as we could with UCSD,” Del Rosario says. “It’s based on the premise that our students can dream about attending UCSD only when they know about UCSD.”

Del Rosario cites opportunities for Sweetwater’s staff members to engage with UCSD staff and faculty and opportunities for UCSD undergrads to work with the district’s students, both within the school day and after school. And he and his faculty have set a goal of having 90 percent of Sweetwater students attend four-year institutions. Currently, that figure is about 35 percent.

“We’ve got a long way to go,” he says. “But that’s double what we had two years ago. Having partnerships with universities allows us to paint that vision.”

Wu, who like Del Rosario is also a Montgomery High graduate, would like to do his student and professional teaching at Sweetwater and inspire students to help meet Del Rosario’s goal.

“He’s a role model,” Sofia Ortega, a 17-year-old senior-to-be at Sweetwater, says of Wu. “Because if he can do it, we can do it, too.”

Pat Flynn spent more than 30 years as a newspaper reporter and editor, mostly at the U-T San Diego.

Are you an educator? Join the Educators Alliance, an alumni affinity group dedicated to building community among Triton educators. There is no better way to network with other professionals in your field, develop mentoring opportunities for current students, and continue growing the Triton network! Learn More