Engineering Nebraska, Summer07
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Dillworth is a “Big Apple” Teacher

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Nebraska graduate Nathan Dilworth’s ninth-grade students ask him to help them learn. He gladly acquiesces.

Dilworth graduated from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln in 2005 with a degree in electrical engineering, and it’s taken him to an uncommon spot: teaching science and math to inner-city kids in New York City’s Bronx neighborhood.

Dilworth said after he graduated, he didn’t want to take the traditional electrical engineering career path and instead applied for a position withthe NYC Teaching Fellows, an organization that takes professionals from other career fields, puts them through a rigorous selection process and a series of classes and then places them in New York City public schools. More than 8,000 educators participate in the program; each teacher also continues learning through a subsidized master’s degree program.

“I’d thought about teaching even before college,” Dilworth said. “So when I learned about a program that puts teachers where they’re most needed, I thought it was a good way to spend some time.”

Dilworth is studying mathematics education at City College of New York; he’ll graduate in December with a master’s degree.

Dilworth’s classroom and the Bronx school he teaches at are diverse. There’s only one white student, he said, and most students are black or Dominican.

The students are also thirsty to learn.

He and another teacher took their classes on a field trip earlier this year, exploring the outdoors and visiting a nearby river.

“The kids asked me, ‘tell us something,’” Dilworth said. “It’s not very often you get students to engage like that. So we talked about the Doppler effect. It was cool for them, but it might have been even cooler for me.”

Dilworth said he lived and breathed the program after he moved to New York, working to become qualified for the program and now studying for his master’s degree.

New York has an extreme lack of educators, Dilworth said, and next year, his Bronx district will consolidate from three schools to two.

He’s working to establish an after-school electronics program for his students, something he’s worked on since his post began. This fall, it’s on his “to do” list as school gets back into session. “I really want to help kids cultivate an interest in electronics if it’s there,” Dilworth said. “If they get into it now and learn about it, they’ll have something to take to college and a reason to think they should go to college.”

To help Dilworth, UNL’s Department of Electrical Engineering donated AM/FM radio kits to his club. The kits were left over from the discontinued Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement program, an outreach activity for disadvantaged youths. When funding for MESA fell though, the department was considering selling the kits on the university’s Ebay store, said Paul Marxhausen, a department supervisor.

As this was happening, Dilworth contacted the department to get information about how to start an after-school program. He ended up talking to Marxhausen, who recognized an opportunity to give the kits a second chance. With permission from MESA’s program director, Tom Sires, the department decided to donate the kits instead of sell them.

“I always thought these were awesome kits, educationally,” Marxhausen said. “ … We were just glad to see them be used for a similar application.”

Dilworth said someday he might return to the engineering field, and he keeps contact with professors and classmates who are in the business, just so the door remains open a bit. But right now, he thinks he can do the most good right where he is.

“A lot of the best teachers I’ve met don’t come from an education background,” he said. “I’m excited about what I teach, and the students get excited about the subject because they see my passion. That’s what the kids gravitate to. That’s a hook; that’s what gets them learning.”

—Sarah Baker and Ashley Washburn