Cayla Steinert’s interest in science started at a young age. Her road to becoming a biology teacher got a boost last spring when she was named a Noyce scholar at Fort Hays State University.
Steinert is on campus this fall as the first transfer student to receive a Noyce scholarship through FHSU’s partnership with five Kansas community colleges.
Steinert, who transferred to FHSU from Garden City Community College, is one of six FHSU students who received $13,750 for tuition, books, and room and board, through the Robert Noyce Scholarship Program. Noyce scholars agree to teach in high-need areas, mainly rural, for two years for every year a grant is accepted.
Choosing FHSU to continue her education especially pleases Steinert’s mom, Tina, who has two teaching degrees from Fort Hays State. It also was her mom who got her Steinert interested in science in the first place.
When she was in first grade, Steinert wanted to know all about her mother’s cancer diagnosis. It was her way of coping with her mom’s illness.
“I was really interested in how everything worked,” Steinert said. “That kind of kick-started my love for science.”
Steinert’s mom remembered her then 7-year-old’s approach to that scary “C” word, cancer. Explaining the jargon to her daughter provided a little understanding for her.
“The nurses and doctors allowed her to ask questions and be involved,” Tina Steinert said. “She had always been interested in how the human body works. Science was something she gravitated to.”
Now, Steinert is on to track to receive her bachelor’s in two years and pursue her master’s degree at FHSU while teaching at the high school level.
Fort Hays State has been helping students with college expenses through the Noyce Scholarship Program since 2012.
The university applied to the National Science Foundation for a grant seven years ago and received $1.2 million for scholarships. The NSF awarded Fort Hays State an additional year of funding, and the school was encouraged to apply again. FHSU successfully wrote another grant, and the $1.45 million it was awarded covers five years of scholarships and will run through 2023.
Steinert said she had no preference where she teaches after graduation but knows it will be where she is needed most.
Dr. Paul Adams, dean of the College of Education and professor of education and professor of physics at FHSU, calls Noyce “the Super Bowl of scholarships.”
“The NSF wants institutions that will prepare the best science and mathematics teachers who can be leaders in their communities, who will make a difference in these high-need communities,” he said.
The scholarship, eligible for juniors and seniors only, can be renewed for a second year.
“The process of getting this means you have to be a scholar, must have potential to be a leader, to work in an area in our state and nation that needs the best possible science and mathematics teachers,” Adams said.
Steinert is eager to meet others in the program. She already connected with a Noyce scholar at a ceremony on campus recognizing first-time recipients last spring.
Kate Westerhaus, a Junction City senior at Fort Hays State, completed her first year as a Noyce scholar in May. Like Steinert, she plans to teach biology upon graduation.
Westerhaus, former president of the STEM education club, said Noyce scholars are required to fulfill six hours of community service each semester.
“With this scholarship, it’s not just about the money,” Westerhaus said. “There are so many connections. Our university truly is unlike any other because of our science and math programs.”
The 2019-2020 Noyce scholarship recipients are listed with their classifications, hometowns, and majors:
Seth Boxberger, junior, Russell, mathematics education
Kole Clarke, senior, Lyons, biology education
Nicolas Schmidt, senior, Hays, (TMP-Marian) mathematics education
Ethan Shippy, junior, Hays, (Hays High) biology education
Cayla Steinert, junior, Olmitz, (Garden City CC) biology education
Judson Tillotson, junior, Whitewater, mathematics education
Alexis Meinert, senior, Garden City, mathematics and secondary education
Diana Sabados, senior, Brighton, Colo., mathematics and secondary education
Chantal Solozano, senior, Dodge City, biology and secondary education
Joshua Stark, senior, Liebenthal, chemistry and secondary education
Kate Westerhaus, senior, Junction City, biology and secondary education
Lauren Zerr, senior, Russell Springs, mathematics and secondary education
Photo via Fort Hays State University: FHSU scholars Cayla Steinert, left, and Kate Westerhaus.