It’s a beautiful, sunny morning on Blakely Island, Washington as Elena Brezynski’s biology class gathers in small groups around tide pools.
Their task throughout the weekend has been to complete a scavenger hunt identifying different organisms. From this scavenger hunt, the class creates assignments they could use to educate elementary students.
Throughout the weekend, Brezynski designates different students to report on their findings as if they were speaking to a class of their own.
This particular morning Brezynski calls on Erin Kalb, a sophomore Integrated Studies major with a concentration in Social Sciences, to present and identify the organisms her group found in these tidepools.
Kalb embraces the challenge, speaking with confidence and deep understanding of the material. From this interaction seems she is a natural educator, but Kalb didn’t always want to be a teacher.
After participating in a constitutional debate team her senior year of high school, Kalb fell in love with politics and government. Coming into SPU she intended to study political science as a stepping stone to pursue a career in educational law.
During her first year on campus Kalb took different classes within the political science major as well as Media Law with Rick Jackson, Ph.D. Although she was energized by her studies, a family tragedy that occured winter quarter forced Kalb to reassess everything.
Kalb lost her mother in January of 2017. As the year progressed she began to question her place on SPU’s campus.
“I began to fall out of love with SPU,” Kalb explained. In the months following her mother’s death Kalb experienced what she calls a quarter-life crisis.
Understandably Kalb had negative feelings and memories associated with her short time on campus, pushing her to consider transferring out of state to a different political science program. But even the thought of returning home for the summer was something Kalb could not do, and so she researched summer programs that could take her far away from her current situation in Seattle.
She landed on a six week internship in Costa Rica where she taught both children and adults English along with other subjects. It was during those six weeks abroad that Kalb decided she wanted to be a teacher.
When she returned to SPU in the fall of 2017, Kalb switched her major to Integrated Studies with a concentration in Social Sciences. She hopes to one day become an elementary teacher.
As a part of the Integrated Study major, the future teachers are required to take a number of science classes. BIO 2571 is the first lab course that these students must take, with a weekend spent on Blakely.
Although many of the students in Brezynski’s class will admit they are not “science-people” this opportunity to travel to Blakely helps solidify much of the learning they’ve done throughout their course.
“The way that we learn [information] is so visual and hands on that we’re getting the tools we need to be able to replicate certain activities in the classroom,” Kalb said. “It really gave us the opportunity to put our own learning into action because it wasn’t just a weekend of lectures. It was a weekend of us going out, looking at plants, looking at animals and using the Latin terms we used in class.”
This sense of empowerment from a hands on environment is one that Kalb does not take for granted. When reflecting on her time spent on the island, she explains that she is grateful to have had the opportunity to travel to Blakely.
“It’s definitely made me appreciate SPU and these sorts of opportunities,” Kalb said. “And it’s made me think more critically about what we’re learning in class and how we’re learning it.”