Water boils over the stove at an old off-campus home awaiting uncooked noodles. A kitchen timer beeps, and giggles erupt from the kitchen table where five girls are sharing stories after a full day of student teaching.

This is ritual for senior secondary education and mathematics student Kathryn “Katie” Merkling, who shares a home with her classmates. The group has spent three and a half years learning alongside each other in the classrooms of Meier and Gellersen as the first-ever MSEED scholars at Valpo.

MSEED is the math and science education enrollment development program at Valparaiso University, supported by the National Science Foundation. It offers students like Katie an opportunity to excel in science and teaching year-round through research and paid internships.

“MSEED is just a wonderful Valpo program,” says Jon T. Kilpinen ’88, Ph.D., dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “It engages some of our most thoughtful faculty members and attracts excellent students like Katie. The result is well-prepared graduates who leave here ready to make a difference in the world through their leadership and service. We could not be more proud of Katie and her classmates in the first group of MSEED graduates.”

The program was brought to Valparaiso University when Katie was just a freshman, and she jokes that they were the guinea pigs when Professor Robert Clark, Ph.D., introduced the program in hopes to get more math and science teachers in the work force. Katie considers his efforts a success, exclaiming with a laugh, “We’ve practically taken over the education department!”

In four years the program has exceled, with nearly 50 students fulfilling the requirements of two internships, a research project, and a cultural diversity element. But for Katie, the experience was much more than that. She is also a Christ College Associate and a leader in many other organizations, but she says MSEED brought the most compelling community atmosphere to her Valpo experience.

“It’s a really close-knit community,” she says, referring to her four house-mates who are also MSEED scholars. “When we all get back from student teaching, we come home and talk about our experiences that day. It’s a great time to reflect for us that I wouldn’t have anywhere else.”

Freshman students look up to Katie and her graduating class, yearning for that same type of relationship. Katie took her time with MSEED to immerse herself in the experience, noting it was something she really loved about campus. “You can walk into a math or science classroom and see a group of MSEED students together. In pretty much every class I’ve been in there was an MSEEDer in there, which is great for us. We rely on each other.”

When Katie lends advice to younger students in the program, she encourages them to make the most of their experiences. She embraced opportunities throughout her time at Valpo by planning events, attending weekly MSEED dinners and creating programs for incoming MSEED students. Though, she credits much of her success to her educational experiences.

When it came time for the program requirements, Katie was eager to get started on what she deems to be the most fulfilling part of the program, her pedagogy internship. Katie redesigned the introductory math course at Valparaiso University, making it more hands on and innovative than ever before. “This was the big one for me,” she says. “It was the first time that I had really ever been in the position of an educator before.”

She was able to see the results of her project by teaching the course with Professor Karl Schmitt, and Katie’s teaching stature lived up to Valpo standards. She restructured assignments, organized the course and provided mentorship to junior students.

“Her insight was incredibly valuable as we worked to improve the learning experience,” Professor Schmitt says. “If she continues in the same vein, she will be an amazing educator, the kind I hope will teach mathematics to any children I might have.”

The experience gave her an upper hand as she prepares to graduate in May.

“I’ve been out into the field before anyone else,” she says. “I’ll be able to go into an interview saying I’ve redesigned an entire college course.”

As Katie finishes her final semester at Valpo, she is embracing every moment, knowing that soon she may not come home to a house filled with her best friends.  Though it is bittersweet, Katie knows she is prepared for a future of educating students and credits much of that to MSEED.

“MSEED has set me up for what I hope to be a successful career,” she says. “It has been a fantastic opportunity. That pretty much sums it up in a few words — it’s changed me for the better.”

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