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From the College of Natural Sciences
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First-Gen Student Navigates Own Path, Helps Others Chart Theirs

First-Gen Student Navigates Own Path, Helps Others Chart Theirs

Guillermo Lezama is a physics major at UT Austin. For First-Generation College Celebration Week this week at UT Austin, Amanda Figueroa-Nieves spoke with the senior about his experiences in UTeach, the university's STEM teacher training program.

How did you decide on teaching as your career path?

During my senior year of high school, at Trimble Tech in Fort Worth, I took a physics course. Almost immediately, I decided I wanted to work at NASA. I decided being an astronomy major in college would be the first step to achieve that goal. After a semester of mentoring in my FRI Stream, White Dwarf Stars, and really enjoying it, I remembered a high school teacher once telling me I should consider teaching in case astronomy didn't pan out. I looked into what I'd need to do for a teaching certification. After many degree audits, I realized that if I switched to physics I could also complete UTeach Natural Sciences by graduation. This started off as a backup plan, but I enjoyed being in the classroom so much I decided to stick with it.

Guillermo Lezama

How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect your student teaching through UTeach?

In virtual learning, students are reluctant to turn on their cameras during online classes. So as I'm teaching a lesson, it's a lot harder to read nonverbal cues. In a traditional setting, I would be able to assess whether I needed to stop and review concepts through those cues. To get past that, we focused on building strong connections with students, so they felt more comfortable speaking out when they needed help. This meant using techniques similar to what our UTeach professors do in our classes — we start with icebreakers and conversations about non-academic topics to build that comfort.

What helped you find a sense of belonging here at UT, especially as a first-generation college student?

The community I've found at UT has been the reason I've stayed. I was a part of the College of Natural Sciences' TIP Scholars, which immediately linked me to four or five other freshmen who were also first-generation college students. It became a safe space I could go to if I was struggling with registration, preparing for an exam, or anything else.

You worked this summer as a teaching fellow at Breakthrough Fort Worth, a summer program to help middle and high school students from under-resourced communities become the first in their families to attend college. What was your summer like?

I had taught through UTeach the previous two semesters on Zoom and getting into the classroom in-person through Breakthrough reminded me of my first time as a teacher in a classroom. It was a very rewarding experience. Plus, some of my students and co-workers actually attended or planned to attend my high school. When I applied and got into Trimble Tech, I felt I was taking an opportunity to improve my education. It was amazing to see students from my school take yet another opportunity by spending their summers at Breakthrough. It felt like I've come full circle.

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Sunday, 26 March 2023

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