Rocca Receives Knowles Science Teaching Fellowship

Rocca Receives Knowles Science Teaching Fellowship

Mason RoccaMason Rocca

Northwestern University graduate student Mason Rocca, a former professional basketball player in Italy, has received a five-year teaching fellowship from the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation (KSTF).

On the court, Rocca was a proven leader who was known for his creativity and collaboration. Now he’ll take those skills into the classroom, where he will teach high school math and look for ways to reform the system.

“Mason is not only broadly interested in improving schools, but he wants to make change happen,” said Tim Dohrer, director of the Master of Science in Education Program at Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy.

“He recognizes when to step forward and when to let others take the lead,” Dohrer said. “For Mason, this is partly instinct and partly experience.”

The KSTF Teaching Fellows Program provides five years of support and professional development to outstanding high school math and science teachers to help jumpstart their careers as education leaders.

Other School of Education and Social Policy alumni who have received Knowles Science Teaching Foundation fellowship awards include Dan Voss (2016), John Holcomb (2014), and Liz Smith (2013).

Rocca expects to graduate in June with a master’s degree in secondary education and a concentration in math.

“Mason’s previous experiences on and off the court, coupled with innate ability and intelligence will help him make a huge impact on his classroom, school, and community,” Dohrer said.

Rocca, an Evanston native who majored in electrical engineering at Princeton University, began thinking about a career in education after teaching three of his children how to read and write in English while the family lived in Italy.

“It was difficult at times, and my kids often complained about having to do lessons with me, but the joy that came over their faces when they realized they were improving was priceless,” said Rocca, who also began working with some of his younger teammates.

In Italy, where children stay with the same teachers from first through fifth grade, Rocca saw the power of building strong relationships between teachers and students.

He also was influenced by a high school teacher who taught him that math wasn’t just about solving problems or getting answers.

“In his class, it was about helping and caring for other people,” he said. “He developed a classroom culture where everyone was valued and helped each other grow. I want to pass on that transformative experience to other students.”

Rocca sees his basketball experience as a natural segue into teaching. The classroom is a team, and the teacher is the captain who should recognize the individual strengths of each student, he said. He also believes working in groups effectively helps students learn from each other.

“A class that has 20 students and one teacher has 21 teachers and 21 students,” he said.

If Rocca has one goal, it’s to wipe out what he calls a math teacher’s biggest enemy: the “I’m-not-good-at-math” mindset. Rocca believes everyone can do math; some just haven’t been exposed to it in a way they can connect with.

“I’m at the age where my work has to matter to me, be significant,” said Rocca, 39. “I’ve been very blessed to have a career that was all about myself. Now I want to give back to other people. Education is one of the most important ways to do that, and I’m excited to be part of the national conversation on education reform.” 

By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 5/9/17