EnCorps Fellow: Chuhyon Corwin
New York Academy of Sciences and EnCorps STEM Teachers Program
Published July 27, 2023
Neuroscience researcher and EnCorps Fellow Chuhyon Corwin is about to swap her research lab for a New York City public high school classroom as she embarks on a new professional career as a science teacher.
The Korean-born Corwin, 47, is an accomplished scientist who wanted to explore teaching high school as a potential career change. Thanks to a partnership between the New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS) and the EnCorps STEM Teachers Program, Corwin spent 10 weeks as a volunteer guest teacher, working alongside a skilled high school science teacher with the support of the EnCorps Program Coordinator, while also learning EnCorps’ specialized pedagogical techniques online.
Launched in 2007, EnCorps has already helped 1,300 seasoned Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) professionals transition from industry or academia to public education to ease the acute shortage of STEM teachers in middle schools and high schools across the United States. The New York Academy of Sciences teamed up with EnCorps to launch the New York EnCorps Fellowship Program in 2022. Corwin is part of the first cohort of New York EnCorps Fellows to use this beneficial model to familiarize themselves with STEM teaching in a high school setting before committing to a career change.
Participating schools also benefit from the EnCorps model; they get a chance to observe talented STEM industry professionals at work in the classroom, assess if they are a good fit for their institution and potentially hire them as STEM teachers ahead of the competition.
“So many of my assumptions about high school teaching were wrong. In 10 weeks, my perspective on education changed,” Corwin explains enthusiastically. “I fell in love with the students. The joy I experienced gave me the confidence that I could overcome challenges I may encounter as a public school teacher.” The program culminated with Corwin teaching her first solo class. By then, she had made up her mind: she wanted to become a full-time science teacher.
For Corwin, the COVID-19 pandemic marked a turning point. As an essential worker, she continued to work in her university research lab, but missed the regular interaction with college students. At home, she helped her teenage sons with their homework. Like many of their peers, they were affected by school closures. “I felt the urge to get out of the lab and do more,” she explains.
Throughout her career, Corwin has been motivated by a desire to use her knowledge to help others. She moved from Korea to the United States as part of a student exchange program, and initially studied computer science. After witnessing the 9/11 attacks while working in Manhattan, she started volunteering with relief efforts. In particular, she noticed the devastating impact of the tragedy on survivors’ mental health. This led her to take a greater interest in the brain and human behavior. She studied neuroscience, eventually focusing on developing therapeutics for neurodegenerative diseases.
Although Corwin had taught university students, she found the work very different in high school, noting the higher level of active engagement required to ensure proper attention levels, as well as the importance of ensuring that students who struggle get the assistance they need to prevent them from falling behind. Corwin also found that maintaining discipline among 30 teenagers, and keeping them interested, requires a great deal of creativity and solid classroom management methods. “With lab activities, you have to be conscious of their safety and make sure they have enough materials,” she says. “The class itself is short, only 43 minutes, so it has to run like clockwork.”
While teaching STEM to high schoolers requires dedication and hard work, Chuhyon Corwin finds nurturing young people’s innate curiosity hugely rewarding. She describes with delight the students’ excited chatter and the amazement that lights up their faces when their lab experiments succeed. Her own enthusiasm for science and discovery has never waned and she looks forward to transmitting her passion to the next generation.
“I hadn’t realized how much I would enjoy talking with these students. They come up with good questions.” says Corwin. “At that age, students are so frank. They let you know exactly what they think. I love that!”
After completing her volunteer guest teaching experience with the EnCorps program, with the support and guidance from both EnCorps and NYAS, Corwin enrolled in an accelerated program to gain her teaching credentials. She doesn’t see her move to teaching as a major break in her life. “I’m simply redirecting my energy to continue my journey as a scientist to make a greater impact by raising more capable future scientists,” she says. “I think a teaching career is very appealing to people who love research. As a scientist, you explore different options, you try things out and reflect to find out what works best.” Using science fiction novels to engage students with STEM subjects is just one of the innovative approaches Corwin discovered while studying for her educational degree.
Nor does Corwin feel becoming a public school teacher involves major sacrifice. “Nobody gets into teaching to get rich, but I’m at an age when I can appreciate other values,” she says, adding that teachers in New York are better paid than some of their peers elsewhere in the country. “Hopefully, people who have been in industry for a while may see the value of giving back.”
She is on course to start work as a full-fledged science teacher in the Fall of 2022. “I was told there is so much demand for science teachers that I don’t need to worry about finding a job,” she says. To other scientists who long for a mid-career change, Corwin heartily recommends teaching and the EnCorps program. “At least, they should try it. Nothing beats that experience.”