As a freshman in the Open Option program at Iowa State, Nick Oelschlager began his first year on campus exploring different academic interests. He wasn’t enrolled in math classes, thanks to college credit he earned in high school, but he did like working with graphs and numbers in his economics and statistics courses.
Soon, he made an important personal discovery: he missed math. As someone who enjoys both people and numbers, he also realized those two areas could add up to a fulfilling career – as a math teacher.
Oelschlager (’21 mathematics) first visited Iowa State because his dad was an alumnus and it was an easy drive from his home state of Minnesota.
“I decided to attend ISU because I felt it combined the resources and opportunities of a large state university with the community feel of the Midwest,” he said.
Oelschlaeger said he found his sense of community at Iowa State in several different ways: amazing friendships from his residence hall, a campus student ministry, The Salt Company; and through academic spaces such as The Sky is the Limit Learning Community for Open Option freshmen.
“The learning community exposed me to a lot of different career opportunities as a freshman and helped me grow confidence in my decision to declare math and education as my major,” he said. “Later, as a peer mentor, I got to work with a group of students each year exploring their interests and the opportunities available to them. I’m sure that experience will help me connect with high school students and help them sharpen their vision for career and educational opportunities.”
As he took more math and teaching classes, Oelschlager grew more confident about his chosen path, and a night class in secondary education became his weekly highlight.
“It allowed us to sink our teeth into research, discussion, and producing our first or best attempts at lesson plans and classroom management plans,” he said. “I thought there was no way I’d ‘want’ to go to a night class, but I will give a shoutout to Dr. Joanne Marshall who directed the course in a highly engaging way that made those three-hour Wednesday night classes something I looked forward to each week.”
Learning on the job
Fast forward to his senior year, and Oelschlager has been student teaching—during a pandemic. His first challenge this January was learning how to manage his classroom and engage his students while his school was in a remote learning model.
Early on, Oelschlager logged on to his webcam from his desk each day to teach several 50-minute classes. His focus is in integrated math courses, combining concepts from algebra II, geometry, and pre-calculus. He also held virtual office hours in the afternoon, and led a weekly mentoring class.
“That class felt a lot like my Iowa State peer mentor job,” he said. “It opened up conversations where I connected with students and their interests. One student talked about interests in graphic design and art, and I asked her to create icons for the online course pages. That interaction was a lot of fun, showcasing a student’s art talent in the math classroom.”
One of his most fun teaching projects so far, he said, has been examining the nature of graphs and how changing functions can change the shapes and positions of graphs and curves, like a Spiderman-themed static graph or a simulation of a bouncing ball.
Teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging, even for the most experienced teachers. One thing that made Oelschlaeger’s life easier was the LAS Student Teaching Award, which provided him with a stipend.
With his financial burden reduced, Oelschlaeger felt more comfortable planning his semester and carefully choosing his opportunities. He began the semester at a suburban high school in his home state of Minnesota, and is finishing spring at an Omaha middle school. The stipend gave him more housing options in Omaha, so he could find a place to live only three miles from school.
“The award was such a welcome surprise,” he said. “Thanks to the continued generosity of Iowa State and LAS, I had the opportunity to invest deeply in learning without financial stress.”
Oelschlager hopes to be the kind of teacher you can count on inside and outside the classroom—engaging students in community service, advocating for their needs, attending their competitions and events, and even coaching sports.
Sounds like a formula for success.