Michigan State University graduate Robby McKay has been selected to be a Knowles Teaching Fellow, a national program supporting high school math and science teachers who are early in their careers. Only about 35 Fellows are selected annually for the program.
In addition to coaching and mentoring, Fellows deepen their field of knowledge and critically examine their practices to improve their classroom instruction. They also learn about and through professional collaboration, community involvement and leadership. During the five-year program, Fellows, who receive financial support in the form of grants or stipends, engage in nearly 100 hours per year.
McKay knew early on he wanted to be a teacher. A frequent participant in math and science programs during middle school, such as the Science Olympiad, he returned to help teach at related events and realized he loved it and could fuse it with his love for science, for physics, for math.
At MSU, McKay leaned into opportunities to grow as a scholar, teacher and person. He pursued research in every way he could, including in the Colleges of Education and Natural Science, the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB) and more. He participated in Science Theater, an outreach program to teach youth about science, and was a resident assistant for three years. He was on the MSU Homecoming Court in 2019.
He also developed an appreciation for critical thinking and appreciating multiple perspectives, which he credits to the Teacher Preparation Program (TPP).
“I learned how to think, and how to challenge other people to think—that’s what I am most grateful for from my time at MSU,” McKay recalls. While many faculty were influential, he credits Professor Melanie Cooper and Associate Professor David Stroupe for encouraging teaching philosophies directed by curiosity. “Uncertainty is authentic in the learning process, how we learn science. We have to hypothesize, find an idea. As a teacher, for me it’s not so much on students identifying the right answer as it is helping them find the process to get to an answer and sharing those ideas and ways of thinking.’
COVID-19 altered McKay’s final years at MSU: He spent the last month of his senior year and took MSU courses for his TPP internship fully online. (He taught students in-person during his internship.)
A member of the Honors College, he graduated in 2020 with a degree physical science (College of Natural Science) and a teaching certificate in secondary education. The pandemic changed how he had envisioned his future, but it also gave him an opportunity to connect with students in unique ways in learning, like asking questions in polls through Zoom or using the chat function.
McKay hopes the Knowles fellowship will continue teaching him ways to improve students’ learning, and his teaching by prompting him to reflect, to step into the unknown with new strategies or practices.
“I’m excited for this internship because it means I won’t be complacent in my teaching,” said McKay, who will start a new role as a physical science teacher in Michigan’s Holt High School this fall. Previously he taught in Mason Public Schools as a middle school robotics and computer science teacher. “This fellowship will push me. It’ll help me become a better teacher for my students.”
Two fellow College of Education alumni were also on the 2019 Homecoming Court:
- Julia Alvarez was highlighted in the New Educator magazine for her efforts in helping transform the Teacher Preparation Program.
- Tim Herd created Rising Black Men, an organization dedicated to the mentorship of Black male undergraduates at MSU.