Gaining Practical Knowledge
When Caitlynn Hewlett first enrolled at the University of Idaho her plan was to earn a degree in biology and enroll in medical school. During her first semester, the Nampa native learned about the programs in the Margaret Ritchie School of Family and Consumer Sciences and those plans changed.
Hewlett will graduate in May 2021 with degrees in child and youth development and sociology and will pursue a master’s degree in social work. Practical experiences at U of I have given Hewlett the skills needed to excel in her future profession.
As part of the child and youth development curriculum, Hewlett was required to spend one semester as a teacher in the U of I Child Development Lab. The lab serves 3 to 5-year-old children in the Moscow area while allowing U of I students to gain hands-on experience working with children in a nationally accredited setting.
“It’s really awesome to have it in the curriculum,” Hewlett said. “It lets you take everything you’ve been learning about for 2-3 years and apply it in a hands-on experience and actually work with children.”
Hewlett met Assistant Professor Shiyi Chen while completing her experience in the Child Development Lab in spring 2020. Chen reached out to Hewlett to see if she’d be interested in assisting with current research projects and Hewlett jumped at the chance. She has now worked on three different projects with Chen and recommends every student get involved with undergraduate research.
“I would recommend that every student think about it. It’s kind of daunting to think ‘oh, I could be a student researcher,’ but just getting to know some of the people in your college, it opens up a lot of opportunities,” Hewlett said. “Getting to actually be part of something that you love to study is really cool.”
The first project Hewlett helped Chen with involved recruiting parents for a study investigating how COVID-19 has affected them. Another project involved transcribing interviews with early childhood educators about their perceptions on science education.
“From transcribing and seeing the data that came out, it’s super interesting to see how teachers perceived teaching science and thinking skills in children at such young ages,” Hewlett said. “A lot of teachers can feel like they’re not fully supported in science.
“This specific project was exploring teacher’s metacognitive awareness in their science teaching and their own understanding of teaching science because that can be a barrier. Obviously, if you don’t feel confident teaching science, you’re less likely to do so. So, exploring how confident and comfortable they were was a really big thing.”
Hewlett is now helping Chen with her most recent project, Grow to Learn, which is aimed at enhancing early science teaching and learning through a professional development program. The project will support teachers as they teach basic plant science by growing sweet peas.
“Because I was a preschool teacher, she’s asking my advice on things like related vocabulary words for sweet peas, like seed germination, vining, photosynthesis and fruiting,” Hewlett said. “In the future she’ll be doing some Zoom trainings and maybe I’ll get to help conduct the actual project with her.
“The goal is to help with metacognition. Taking ideas from each project to find ways to help teachers teach science if that’s not their area of expertise.”
Future Social Worker
Hewlett is interested in a career that will allow her to help a family unit as a whole. She is applying to graduate schools and hopes to become a medical social worker. In this role she would work within a hospital setting, collaborating with medical professionals to assist patients with a variety of issues.
“I want to be the person that helps patients with outpatient care, helping them get ahold of insurance, helping them find resources after they’re discharged,” she said. “I’ll also be the person that’s there when the doctor has to talk to the patients. I’d provide a little bit of a counseling role even.”
For Hewlett, helping ease the burdens of families in stressful situations is her ultimate goal.
“Just being there for all the really great highs, when someone gets to go home with their family,” she said. “Helping people get out of a hard part in their life.”
Article by Amy Calabretta, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
Photos provided by Caitlynn Hewlett
Published in November 2020