As an incoming freshman, Lauren Mott had her journey at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln all mapped out.
She was good at science, and her father was a doctor – so pursuing a pre-health major was a fitting path for the Omaha native.
After immersing herself in classes, Mott realized that the technical side of STEM wasn’t the only thing she enjoyed. She loved helping her classmates solve complicated problems and understand the curriculum, and soon, many people started telling her she’d make a great teaching assistant.
“I found that throughout all my courses, when they were really difficult, I was really good at explaining things to other people,” Mott, now a junior biology major, said.
Getting involved in Nebraska’s Honors Program allowed Mott to shape her new passion for teaching and make a difference in the campus community. She became a peer mentor in the program, leading first-year students in their transition to college. She also enrolled in a first-semester health communication honors seminar, which sparked her interest in the social sciences and humanities.
Mott enjoyed the class so much that she approached instructor Angela Palmer-Wackerly, assistant professor of health and interpersonal communication, to see if she had any research opportunities. Palmer-Wackerly said yes, allowing Mott to combine her STEM and communication talents into one interdisciplinary project.
She is currently researching how teachers’ behavior in the classroom can contribute to student success and confidence in organic chemistry.
“Everybody has those really awesome teachers and those not-so-good teachers, and I want to figure out what makes a really awesome teacher and how they can help everybody get to the finish line — not just the good test-takers,” Mott said.
This summer, Mott was presented with the opportunity to further her love for teaching in a whole new way. For two weeks in May, she and other students created after-school college readiness curriculum for fourth through eighth-graders across Nebraska. The project was a collaboration with Beyond School Bells, an organization in Lincoln that helps bring expanded learning opportunities to schools.
The goal of the two-week session was to design activities and crafts that could fit inside of a Beyond School Bells trailer. The organization has multiple trailers that travel throughout the state, ensuring that all schools – regardless of location – have access to the materials.
Mott’s curriculum focus was communication. She outlined several activities to help students understand and process their emotions, as well as effectively interact with one another.
In one of Mott’s activities, students debate their favorite breakfast foods and are split into two groups: pancakes versus waffles. While it may seem like a silly game, she said, the curriculum teaches children to express their ideas with patience and listen to others before speaking.
“The hope is not to give them content knowledge, because school does that,” Mott said. “Instead, I’m really hoping that students just have fun, make relationships and have a little spark of interest in something.”
Watching the students interact with curriculum she designed, Mott said, was a fulfilling addition to her experiences thus far at Nebraska. She hopes to continue replicating that feeling throughout her career.
“My favorite part was actually trying it out with the kids. I just had so much fun being there,” Mott said. “Interacting with the actual things I’d thought of and having them work was really rewarding to me.”