Alumni Spotlight: A Passion for Nature and Science Made a STEAM Specialization the Perfect Fit for Educator Karl Frank
Karl Frank graduated from the University of Miami with an undergraduate degree in marine biology and anthropology. After graduation he worked in outdoor education in the San Francisco Bay area before beginning his work with the National Park Service, traveling all over the western United States conducting bird research projects. Eventually Karl landed in the classroom and began his career as a science teacher, getting his start at the Long Beach Unified School District. Karl subsequently worked as a science teacher in both California and Washington for roughly 12 years before returning to school for his master of education degree with a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) specialization at the University of San Diego. Karl is now the Science Department chair at Campbell Hall in North Hollywood and credits this appointment to the advanced STEAM education that he received at the University of San Diego.
Why did you decide to get your master’s of education degree?
I had been considering a master’s degree for a while.
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I have long had this pet project on the side. It started when we moved to Washington eight years ago and I began writing a blog on this idea that our knowledge of robotics and this new emerging field of biomimicry or bio-inspired design are merging together. Largely, biomimicry has so far been used for surveillance and as a way to gather intelligence. For me, being a naturalist, I’m more interested in the idea that our flying machines are becoming more sophisticated with robotic gulls and hummingbirds now behaving very much like a real bird does with flexible wings and torsion control. For me, it’s a purely intellectual pursuit – this idea that we can mimic nature with machines captivates me.
As a science teacher my whole philosophy is that science education should be hands on and interdisciplinary and that students are best served through a STEAM approach. So a project involving biomimicry for instance lets kids get involved with engineering, aerodynamics and the principle of flight to name just a few.
Getting a master’s degree in education with a concentration in STEAM combined all of my passions and has helped me tremendously in my career advancement.
Why did you choose the University of San Diego?
As far as online programs go there were only a few and after doing some reading and research it appeared that University of San Diego was the best choice. I looked at all of the University of San Diego course offerings and it sounded like it had a really nice mix between traditional education classes and then really inspiring classes that incorporated art and science. The five STEAM specialization courses were perfect.
How did the University of San Diego master’s program help you get to where you are today?
The University of San Diego master’s program improved my capabilities as a teacher and gave me an extra layer of credibility. Now, I have tools to launch new projects at our school. Two years ago I wouldn’t have been so bold as to launch some of the projects I am working on today.
For instance, a big goal of mine is to get our students involved in research with an entity outside of the school. While I was in the University of San Diego program I made a connection with a lab at UCLA and was able to establish a research partnership with one of their postdoc research scientists. Now at Campbell Hall we have an entire research lab where students can practice neurobiology research on fruit flies under the supervision of a UCLA postdoc scientist. The kids even helped us build and design the research lab. Eventually, I hope to expand the program.
I have also recently partnered with a professor at Cal State Northridge who studies coral reef health in the Virgin Islands. He is going to come to the school and give students an introductory lesson on coral reefs. Next summer we have plans to bring a group of students down to the Virgin Islands to conduct actual field research there.
The STEAM program I went through at the University of San Diego gave me the confidence to develop these types of programs at Campbell Hall.
What did you like best about the University of San Diego’s Master of Education program? Is there anything you would change?
I loved the level of interaction with the other students in the University of San Diego program. The weekly discussion forum, which was our main means of communication, was really helpful. The discussion forum allowed me to get a glimpse into the scenario and day-to-day existence of a number of other teachers, as people discussed their circumstance and their struggles – more so than an in-person program would have allowed me to do. I don’t know that you would dive that deep with the other students in an in-person program.
The professors were great. Bobbi Hansen in particular really inspired me. Her feedback throughout the course was very detailed and really focused on helping me grow as an educator and helping my writing process along. I learned a lot from Bobbi Hansen.
How did you like the online component?
With two young kids and a pretty busy teaching schedule there would pretty much no way for me to get a master’s degree in person. The structure and flexibility of an online program served me perfectly.
Do you think getting a master’s degree is important for teachers?
Absolutely, the more education anyone has the better. For me – I’m in my 40s – getting my master’s degree kind of renewed my passion for teaching and catapulted me forward in many ways. Obtaining an advanced degree opened up many doors that may not have been open otherwise.
I read Carol Dweck, who talks about the growth mindset and keeping an open mind to opportunities for personal growth. I have really embraced that concept, personally, and try to share that with students. If you have this growth mindset and there is a particular experience that will provide a great learning opportunity, it would make sense to take full advantage of that opportunity. In my case it was completing my master of education degree with a STEAM specialization.
How would you describe your experience overall?
Getting through the Master of Education program at the University of San Diego wasn’t without its challenges. There were certainly times when I was feeling very overburdened with parenting, teaching and studying. I definitely at times struggled to make all those things happen, but I felt really well supported by all the professors at the University of San Diego. They offered flexibility by giving extensions if needed and understanding that I might be on a trip with students one week and not have access to my computer and school materials, and let me get caught up when I returned.
Almost without exception all the instructors provided meaningful feedback that helped me grow as an instructor and student researcher. Even though I wasn’t meeting with them in person I still developed those close online relationships. It was a very nurturing environment. If I had a question I would hear back right away.
If you would like to advance your career and education like Karl, consider a Master of Education Degree from the University of San Diego. We have five distinct specializations: STEAM, Curriculum & Instruction, Literacy & Digital Learning, Inclusive Learning, and School Leadership. To learn more contact an admissions advisor.