Marisa Castronova has always loved her job teaching Life Science at Robert L. Lazar Middle School in Montville, New Jersey but she never really considered how she might expand her influence beyond the four walls of her classroom. That was until she became a student in the doctoral program in Educational Leadership at Caldwell University. There, she and fellow cohort member, educator Jessica Shackil, were encouraged to develop their idea of STEM PALS, a cross-district and cross-grade program designed to get students excited about science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). “The doctoral program helped us to take STEM PALS through to fruition,” says Castronova. With grant monies from the NJEA Frederick L. Hipp Foundation, the two were able to expand the project and provide STEM access to even more students. Today, four years later, fourth-grade students from Parsippany work with seventh and eighth-grade students from Montville on STEM challenges in real time.
Castronova, a resident of Nutley, New Jersey was selected to give the graduate student address at Caldwell University’s commencement ceremony on May 19. She earned her doctorate last December and says she fully appreciated the model of the program that was designed for working adults. “I looked forward to going to class on Friday night and Saturdays. I loved talking about educational issues with people who were also interested in teaching, reform and educational leadership,” says Castronova. She grew as a researcher as her Caldwell professors encouraged her to dig deep, push theory forward and share findings with colleagues. Her work caught the attention of others; she was accepted to present at the Northeastern Educational Research Association and was invited to speak at the RiSE Center’s STEM Colloquium at the University of Maine (Orono).
She misses not going to class on the weekends. The classes were “intellectually stimulating and provided me with a rich perspective on different educational topics.”
The program has forced her to grow intellectually and ask ‘how can data help me?’ Now, she uses research more often to make decisions. She sees that her initiatives as a science educator and as a researcher can influence others. “I feel that my work at Caldwell has led me to create positive educational change and reach people on a broader scale.”