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Q&A: Liberty grad Ashley Caldwell receives STEM scholarship from NASA at Queens University of Charlotte

Ashley Caldwell said she fell in love with education shortly after arriving at Queens University of Charlotte in North Carolina as a freshman four years ago.

Caldwell, a 2016 Liberty High School graduate, earned Times Field Hockey Player of the Year honors as a senior after she helped lead the Lions to the Class 1A state championship, the program’s first state title since 1982. She served as a team captain and concluded her final season with five goals and a county-best 20 assists.

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She played field hockey for one year at Queens but chose to focus on her academics in education and learning how to be an effective teacher. She moved to North Carolina full-time after her freshman year and continued to improve her educational experience.

In November, Caldwell received a $3,500 Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Pre-Service Teacher Scholarship for the 2020-21 academic year from NASA. She will work with researchers from NASA and receive professional development with a focus on STEM education.

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The Times caught up with Caldwell about playing at Liberty, her experience at Queens and more.

Ashley Caldwell, a 2016 Liberty High School graduate, recently received a STEM Pre-Service Teacher Scholarship from NASA while at Queens University of Charlotte.
Ashley Caldwell, a 2016 Liberty High School graduate, recently received a STEM Pre-Service Teacher Scholarship from NASA while at Queens University of Charlotte. (Courtesy photo)

Q: What does this scholarship recognition mean to you, and what will you do with the earnings?

A: I was very pleased to receive this grant from NASA. I was made aware of the award by my professors at Queens this past summer, and they encouraged myself and some other colleagues to apply for it. I have worked very hard over the past couple years to learn as much about teaching at the K-6 level and being the best educator I can be. So, this award was a great recognition of all the hard work I have done in recent years. I plan to use this grant to continue my education and get my master’s in STEM K-12 or digital literacies. I also plan to go on to get my doctorate in educational leadership after that. So, I have a lot of plans on continuing my schooling in the education world, and this grant is helping me get that started.

Q: What are you most looking forward to about working with NASA researchers and receiving professional development as you progress to earning your degree?

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A: I’m really looking forward to gaining more information about STEM related topics such as aeronautics and microgravity, as well as learning about the best strategies for teaching STEM in the K-6 realm. I have fallen in love with not only being a teacher in the classroom but being a lifelong learner myself, so this is the perfect experience to gain more knowledge on teaching topics in general. I will participate in a series of digital badges and webinars through NASA within a cohort of teachers to make this learning both collaborative and personal. These professional development opportunities will give me new techniques that will guide me through my student teaching during my next, and final, semester of college, as well as my future graduate programs.

Q: How have you been handling the coronavirus pandemic while trying to complete your education at the same time?

A: The pandemic has definitely caused many challenges for me during my last year of college. I have been doing my yearlong student teaching within a first grade class online as well as finishing up my college courses virtually. Teaching first graders in an online setting has been very difficult because I had to change and adapt all of my teaching techniques I had just spent three years learning about and perfecting. However, I have a great support system including my professors, clinical teacher and my students who help me get through each step of the way. Even though the pandemic has made this year challenging, it will help me prepare to be a better teacher. As I tell my students, we just have to look at the positives, that is the only way we are going to get through it.

Q: What did you enjoy the most about playing field hockey at Liberty?

A: I enjoyed so many things about playing field hockey at Liberty; we really were a family. I have missed my [field] hockey team so much over the past couple years especially my fellow captains Hannah Miller and Abbie Busch, as well as my old coach Brenda Strohmer. I really enjoyed our practices and game day rituals.

Q: You helped lead Liberty to its first state championship since 1982 as a senior. What do you remember the most about that season and becoming a state champion?

A: The state championship is a moment I will never forget. I remember all of the hard work we put into every practice and every drill to make it to that point. During that season, our team was the closest it had ever been, and we worked together on the field and off the field; we truly were all great friends. I will always cherish that championship and the relationship our team had together.

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