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College of Education > News and Publications > 2017: 04-06 news > Alumna returns to school to follow her passion

Alumna returns to school to follow her passion

She graduated from Penn State in 2014 and has returned to College of Education for a teaching certificate and master's degree.

Natalie Roberts is in love with the idea of teaching a subject she thinks most people hate, so much that she is in the process of adding a teaching certificate and subsequently a master's of education to a resume already showcasing two degrees.

Natalie Roberts left Penn State in 2014 with degrees in history and political science and has returned to pursue a teaching certificate and a master's of education degree.
Roberts graduated from Penn State in 2014 and tested the working world in the legal field, but she opted for enrollment in the College of Education and eventual pursuit of employment teaching secondary social studies.

"No one really likes social studies and every time I tell people that's what I'm doing, they're like, 'Oh, those were my least favorite classes,'" Roberts said. "I always loved it. No, people hate it. I mean the kids seem interested, I think. There's definitely a stigma on social studies.

"I think they're trying to make it a little more fun. We're certified to teach economics and psychology and sociology and those are things kids are typically more interested in than history or geography. So, there are options to make it more fun and it's good to incorporate those things."

Roberts, 24, a State College Area High School graduate, was in Schreyer Honors College and earned degrees in history and political science. "I wanted to be a lawyer, so that was the path I took," Roberts said. "My junior year I considered switching into education, but I was in the throes of writing my undergraduate thesis which was a lot of work and I was so overwhelmed with school and so done with it that I dropped the education."

Roberts won $750 by placing second in the Penn State Libraries' Outstanding Thesis Award for Research for her submission on organic agriculture in California and Pennsylvania. She earned her first dough by working in the legal department of Martin's Famous Pastry Shoppe Inc., based in Chambersburg.

"I read contracts, I edited contracts, I wrote contracts and I worked with our independent distributors, the people that bring bread to the grocery stores," Roberts said. "They were going through a compliance program where they had to become a business and get insured so I became the insurance guru for the company."

Roberts got a firsthand view of each sector of the business and worked intimately with accounting and human resources. "I saw what all the departments did and I realized I wasn't interested in doing anything in any of those departments," she said. "I learned a lot about business and how it works and what all the jobs do and I learned I didn't want to do any of those jobs."

"I love school. I have always loved school. If I could stay in school forever, I probably would, and I kind of am by being a teacher."--Natalie Roberts

Roberts' overriding sentiment, she said, was that she wanted to do something that felt rewarding rather than something like pulling teeth to get something done that she didn't care much about.

"Doing so isn't as easy as it sounds," said Scott Metzger, associate professor of education (social studies) who is serving as Roberts' adviser. "Post-bachelor teacher certification at Penn State typically require two full years of study and field experience. It can be a challenge to work during these full studies, and financial aid tends to be extremely limited for post-bachelor students.

"Even with a looming teacher shortage, federal and state governments don't really accommodate aid for former undergraduates who want to come back to university for teacher education. Post-bachelor education students also can fall between the cracks when it comes to scholarships, as teacher-education students traditionally have been thought chiefly as initial undergraduates.

"But my own experience here suggests there is a surprisingly robust interest for a mid-career switch into teaching, and I hope in the future public and private funding will do more to support it," Metzger said.

Roberts had met Metzger as an undergraduate and placed another call. "He gave me the next steps because I was like, well, I made a mistake by not finishing when I was here before," Roberts said. "I am glad I had experience because otherwise I might have thought, well, maybe I'm better suited for the business world. But now I know I'm really not."

Her desire to earn a secondary social studies degree will come to fruition in spring 2018. She is pre-student teaching (juniors and some freshmen) at Tyrone Area High School and will student teach there in the fall. "Everything's been going pretty smoothly, it's worked out well," Roberts said. "I definitely made the right choice because I do like being able to specialize in the content fields that I know."

Long-range plans include possible certification to become a principal, but "five to 10 years in a classroom to get that experience" tops her bucket list. "I don't think you can fully be an administrator in a school without understanding what the classroom teachers are going through," Roberts said.

Roberts labeled Metzger as the "best adviser (she) could ever ask for," and appreciates the support she's received from the College of Education. "Everyone in the College of Ed has been super helpful whenever I need anything," she said.

Metzger said it was an easy decision to advise her. "I knew she always had the interest in education and her heart in the right place," he said. "Now she also has the focus and clarity to commit to the profession. Natalie also is not afraid of hard work.

"Initial undergraduates are younger and still exploring life options, so committing to a teaching career so early is a hard thing to ask. Post-bachelor and master's degree teacher certification programs are an important legacy, and the people who commit to this kind of demanding professional education, often bearing most of the expense themselves, really deserve more attention and praise," Metzger said.

"And all this while she still squeezes in part-time employment (Berkey Creamery) when possible. This hard work is a real testament to her dedication," Metzger said.

For Roberts, it was an easy call.

"I love school," Roberts said. "I have always loved school. If I could stay in school forever, I probably would, and I kind of am by being a teacher."

Jim Carlson (April 2017)