May 16, 2012

Megan Barnum isn’t your typical biological engineer. A native of New Roads, La., Barnum will graduate in May but won’t be heading to graduate school – like she originally planned – or a laboratory. Rather, Barnum will find her home in a classroom at Patrick Henry Middle School in Houston, Texas as a Teach for America participant.

Although Barnum was first introduced to the Teach for America program by one of her friends’ teachers who was an “older guy with a Ph.D. from Harvard” – not the average Teach for America participant – she didn’t know it would be the path she would take after college graduation.

In her junior year of college, Barnum enrolled in a biological engineering class that required the students to teach STEM lessons – in Barnum’s case the difference between latent and specific heat – to fourth graders at University High. 

“I kept asking myself how am I going to take what I learned in college and put it on a fourth grade level?” Barnum said. 

But, Barnum was well prepared. While at LSU, Barnum has been involved in numerous campus organizations and programs including: Boys Hope/Girls Hope with National Society of Black Engineers; a University Terrace third grade reading tutor and team leader with Volunteers in Public Schools; a LEAP remediation tutor at Kenilworth Science and Technology Charter School; a missionary at hospitals and support homes in Brazil; and part of the Mentorship Academy in Baton Rouge. 

Working with the fourth grade class at University High, however, allowed Barnum to notice the achievement gap between those students and the students she had previously worked with at University Terrace.

“It was my first time working with privileged students,” Barnum said. “Seeing that achievement gap was the reason I chose Teach for America.”

Shortly after, Barnum attended an information session for Teach for America, applied and patiently waited. Not only was Barnum accepted into the two-year program, she was named an Amgen Fellow. According to the Teach for America website, Amgen Fellows hold a degree in science, mathematics, and/or engineering and exemplify at the highest level the characteristics Teach For America seeks in its corps members, including achievement, perseverance, critical thinking, ability to influence and motivate others and respect for low-income communities.

The fellowship also comes with a signing bonus and classroom stipend that Barnum is anxious to use to make her classroom the perfect learning environment. 

“I want to spark an interest in a STEM field in the students who may have never thought about being an engineer or researcher,” Barnum said. “I want to instill in students a sense of confidence needed for them to believe in themselves and be able to set and reach their goals.”

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