Senior Success: Grace Izzo ’21, first senior to graduate with degree in secondary education and chemistry
Editor’s Note: SALVEtoday is celebrating the Class of 2021’s Senior Week with specially curated content Monday, May 3 through Friday, May 7. Senior Week will be devoted to sharing special Senior Success stories and other content relevant to the Class of 2021. Check back each day to read stories about Salve Regina’s incredible seniors. For more Class of 2021 stories, go here.
Many students pick a university based off the academic programs that are offered. In the case of Grace Izzo ’21, however, Salve Regina welcomed her with the intent of creating an entirely unique curriculum. Izzo is a senior graduating with Salve Regina’s first major in secondary education and chemistry.
Paving the way with a new major
Izzo transferred to Salve Regina during the spring of her first year after attending St. Vincent College in Pennsylvania and then taking some courses at a local community college in her hometown of Long Island, New York. Izzo chose Salve Regina because she liked the comfort of feeling like she was at home.
Originally a biology major with the intentions to go to dental school, Izzo made the decision to switch to chemistry and secondary education because she realized that chemistry is what she really loves. But Izzo did not want to work in a 9-5 lab job, and while she was thinking of other paths she could explore with chemistry, she thought of being a teacher.
“I didn’t know anything about the education department, but I did know that I wanted to do chemistry and education,” Izzo recalled. “Salve actually didn’t have it, and that’s the big thing. I am Salve’s first chem and secondary ed major. Once I knew I wanted to come here … they really went above and beyond to push the program so that I could stay and graduate.”
Dr. Susan Meschwitz, Izzo’s advisor and chairwoman of the chemistry department, explained that the department has always been interested in the program, but they hadn’t had any interest prior to Izzo. Despite recommendations by the Rhode Island Department of Education that she should attend another school if she wanted to pursue her desired degree, the Salve Regina program was able to get it pushed through by May of 2019.
“I’m paving the way for others now,” said Izzo. “There is a girl who is a sophomore who is chemistry, so she will have my work to look back on. And in the long run, that will support her.”
The chemistry department works closely with Izzo in order to support her in her unique course of study. Izzo notes that she has been able to learn a lot about the material and that her professors make sure to work with her in providing her with information and examples that will help her with secondary education while also providing support for other chemistry majors.
Learning to love education
The path to Izzo’s pursuit in education was not a straight line. Her decision to study secondary education came from a desire to do something a little different than the ordinary with her passion for chemistry, but she has learned to translate that enthusiasm in teaching her students.
“Once we got into the classroom sophomore year, I was at Thompson Middle School in Newport,” she described. “Once I was in my sixth-grade science class and I was put in with the kids, directing them, being there for them and developing relationships — that’s when I really knew this is what I want to do.”
The most important part about teaching, according to Izzo, is supporting the students. Currently, she is teaching at Portsmouth High School in a prep course for AP Chemistry. She explains that she always thought she would be teaching high school, but as she gains more experience in the classroom, she has realized she would also consider doing middle school.
“I really like those kids,” Izzo explained. “They are still developing and learning, they are cute and they are very funny. They still have that outgoing personality that kids start to lose once they hit high school.”
As a student, Izzo understands the difficulties of online learning from a student perspective, but her position in education during these unprecedented times have allowed her to understand the importance of classroom engagement on a level she might not have been able to without COVID-19. When asked what the hardest part about teaching during the pandemic has been, she pointed to the issues that online learning pose regarding engagement.
“You want to be able to do a lab in person with the kids that are there … We put it on the iPad and the kids watch,” she said. “So it’s definitely a question of how we get students engaged and excited to learn about the content rather than them being home and completely zoned out and not really knowing what’s going on.”
The dedication of Salve Regina’s faculty allows students like Izzo to pursue their dreams and achieve their goals even if unique approaches such as developing a new program must be taken. Hopefully the work of Grace Izzo with the chemistry and secondary education departments will inspire more students to follow in her footsteps.
Article by student writer Anna Downes ’22