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Fellowship Eases Financial Burden

Growing up, Nick Koberstein always had an interest in buildings and floor plans. He’d study interstate exchanges and large bridges when his family took road trips.

This fascination naturally led him to think a civil engineering degree was the right fit when he enrolled as an undergraduate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

But something was missing.

“That first semester, I really wasn’t passionate about what I was doing,” Koberstein said.

He realized he wanted to make more of an individualized impact. If he didn’t build that bridge, someone else would, he recalled thinking as he weighed career options.

Instead, Koberstein took another passion and talent – for mathematics – and found a way to make that personal impact every day. He became a teacher, and he has never looked back. Just four short years after earning his undergraduate degree, he graduated from NC State University this May with his M.Ed. in math education.

The Illinois native had moved to North Carolina for a change of scenery after earning his B.S. in mathematics. He began teaching at Knightdale High School in Wake County in 2012.

Knightdale High has traditionally served a high-needs population of students, Koberstein said, and being on staff there has allowed him to make the kind of impact he hoped for.

“For a lot of my kids, I kind of feel like we’re all they have,” he said. “School is their safe zone.”

After two years at Knightdale High, Koberstein recognized that some of his peers planned to teach for a few years and then move on to something else, but he knew he was committed to education for the long haul.

With that in mind, he enrolled in NC State’s College of Education to earn his master’s.

“I felt like I could do more,” he said. “I wanted more resources. I wanted to be in an environment with people who wanted to do more.”

While working toward his degree, Koberstein kept his full-time teaching position and took on a part-time job to help with expenses.

It came as a welcome surprise when he was nominated by a professor and received a Moshakos Family Teacher Education Graduate Fellowship in 2015.

That extra financial help eased the burden of being both a full-time teacher and student, and allowed Koberstein to focus on his students while he completed his degree. He was able to scale back on hours at his part-time job and start the school day rested and ready.

He initially selected NC State because it was convenient to his job. He found the choice to be the right one for many other reasons.

“The reason I went into teaching was my passion for it,” he said. “The one thing I’ve noticed about my professors at NC State is their passion. I don’t know if I would’ve gotten that elsewhere.”

Koberstein said his program allowed for more group work and class conversations, rather than note-taking and lectures. He embraced the atmosphere of the small program, getting to know his classmates well, and working through both mathematics and teaching strategies with them.

What’s more, his degree and experiences at NC State helped prepare him to lead. This fall, he’ll take his knowledge back to Knightdale High, where he’ll take on a new role as the school’s math department chair.

As he looks toward the future, Koberstein sees himself improving education in other ways. He’s considering becoming involved in curriculum design, and hopes to serve as a leader to others in the profession.

“I would love to teach teachers how to teach,” he said.