College Blogs

Teacher Candidate Overcomes the Odds

Kathy Krueger in the lab
Kathleen Krueger prepares plant DNA for electrophoresis
in Cal Poly's undergraduate biotechnology lab.

SAN LUIS OBISPO — For a perfect example of a lifelong learner, look no further than Kathleen Krueger (B.S., Biological Sciences, 2004; Single Subject Credential in Biological Sciences, 2010). Krueger earned her bachelor's degree and single subject credential while working full time for Cal Poly's custodial services.

At first, success didn't come easily. "I didn't just fall on my face, I did a free fall on my face," Krueger said of her first attempt at a bachelor's degree while trying to juggle full-time student status and full-time work.

She dropped her course load to part-time so that she could focus more on each class. And then she found biotechnology.

"I was standing in chemistry labs watching biology students do gene sequencing and thinking, I want to do that part," Krueger said. Peter Jankay, a biology professor, gave Krueger a job working in his lab, which allowed her to hone her molecular biology skills. That was a turning point for Krueger.

"It turned out to be such an exciting time for me that I just lit up and went for my passion," she said.

After earning her bachelor's degree, Krueger thought she would take a break from studying, despite a long-time dream of pursuing teaching. She was working in Building 52 at the time, and as fate would have it, the Center for Excellence in Science and Math Education (CESAME) moved its offices into that building.

"Just hanging around CESAME did a lot for me. The entire CESAME staff is amazingly supportive. The more I got involved and was around teachers, the more I liked teaching," Krueger said.

Krueger brought her passion for research with her to the teaching credential program. When the STEM Teacher and Researcher Program (STAR), a summer research opportunity for aspiring science and mathematics teachers, added a biotech opportunity, Krueger was one of the first to submit her application.

She spent the summer of 2012 at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash., studying a type of fungi that shows promise as a source of biofuel. As a returning student, Krueger appreciated the experience in a way younger teaching candidates may not be able to.

"Being in that environment and seeing what a national laboratory does gives you a much broader world perspective. You're doing research that's meant to impact global solutions," Krueger said.  "Plus, you get to completely focus on something that you really love for nine weeks. I didn't have to worry about work, bills or any other responsibilities — it was golden."

As a STAR fellow and teacher, Krueger went on to share her research at a number of conferences and won the second place Margaret Burbidge Award for best experimental research at the 2012 American Physical Society, California-Nevada Section Annual Conference, which Cal Poly hosted in November.

Krueger is currently looking for teaching positions in San Luis Obispo County. Meanwhile, she's still involved with both teaching and biology, tutoring low-performing elementary math students with Professional Tutors of America and volunteering at the Marine Mammal Center in Morro Bay.