Kettering graduates named Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellows

Oct 2, 2013

Kettering graduates Michael Ploof ’08 and Sarah Patterson ’10 are bringing their unique background and experiences to inner city classrooms.

Kettering graduates Michael Ploof ’08 and Sarah Patterson ’10 are bringing their unique background and experiences to inner city classrooms after being named W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Woodrow Wilson Michigan Teaching Fellows this summer.

The fellowship will simultaneously place Ploof and Patterson in an intensive master’s program at Eastern Michigan University and Wayne State University respectively and in classrooms in low-achieving schools in Ypsilanti and Detroit.

The goals of the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowships are to attract the very best candidates to teaching, put strong teachers into high-need schools, cut teacher attrition and retain top teachers, and transform university-based teacher education. The Fellowships recruit teachers with strong backgrounds in the STEM fields and ask fellows to commit to teaching in low income, high need schools in Michigan for three years.

Sarah Patterson ’10“I always knew that I wanted to be in the classroom,” Patterson said. “Eventually I wanted to be in corporate America for a while and then transition to the classroom. That’s always been my plan, even in college. I love mathematics, I love to deal with data and numbers but my true passion is teaching.”

Patterson grew up in Gary, Ind., and was inspired to pursue mathematics and teaching by her high school teachers. At Kettering, Patterson majored in Applied Mathematics with a concentration in statistics while tutoring Flint-area students as part of the Kagle Leadership Initiatives. After completing her co-op at Ally Financial, Patterson commuted to Lansing, Mich., to work for Auto Owners Insurance before embarking on her new career in education.

“It’s a highly integrated program where we learn and apply. Learn and apply,” Patterson said. “You can compare it to Kettering’s co-op program but more on a daily basis. I have classes in the afternoon and evening and then I teach in the morning.”

Ploof was inspired to pursue education after participating in a teaching fellow program while working on a master’s in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Michigan. The program sent engineering graduate students to Ypsilanti High School to present demonstrations and experiments, and work with students one-on-one several times a week.

Michael Ploof ’08“I kind of had a thought in my mind that someday I wanted to teach,” Ploof said. “That opportunity to participate in it first-hand confirmed that this is something that I could do in the future.”

Ploof enrolled at The University of Michigan after graduating from the Mechanical Engineering program at Kettering and completing his co-op at Inteir Automotive and Signal Medical. Ploof then worked on robot hardware platforms and prototype forensic devices at Quantum Signal before being pulled to the classroom through the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship program.

“Having worked in the engineering field for several years before teaching, I think it gives me a unique perspective,” Ploof said. “One of the most common questions I remember [from the classroom] is ‘when are we ever going to use this?’ I can tell you exactly when you can use that.”

Ploof envisions a project-based classroom that attempts to solve problems in a manner similar to a science or engineering lab.

“I really like the experience when a student has an ‘aha’ moment. It’s not always related to the content,” Ploof said.  

Ploof and Patterson will be training in the classroom three days a week and taking classes for the other two this semester. In January 2014, they begin their student teaching experience and continue taking graduate classes in the evening. In August 2014 they will graduate and prepare for their first year as full-time teachers.

Both Patterson and Ploof see teaching in high-needs areas of Michigan as a long-term career path. Ploof has already purchased a house in Ypsilanti in preparation for his new career.

“I see teaching as a long-term career choice, if anything, I might see myself getting involved in higher level administration, not because I think administration is more important but in terms of affecting education policy, that’s where it happens,” Ploof said. “I am interested in a lot of policy issues and those are tough to affect directly in the classroom. I certainly see myself being a classroom teacher for a significant amount of time first, though.”

Patterson is married and living in Wixom, Mich. and expects to continue teaching in Michigan for a long time.

“I’m kind of rooted here and I really want to stay in Michigan. I love it here,” Patterson said. “But being a Woodrow Wilson fellow, you are required to commit three years of teaching in a high-need area. I really want to stay longer than that. This is my career path.”