"Raised by nerds," Goetz was propelled into science by her parents and her own curiosity.
Jenny Goetz grew up in a family where science was regular fodder for dinner conversation.
Her father is a space physicist who often works with NASA and her mother is a professor of astrophysics at Carleton College in Northfield.
"I really grew up surrounded by science. It was great and it was weird," said Goetz, recalling her parents debating centripetal force at the dinner table. "I was raised by nerds."
That everyday exposure coupled with her own curiosity propelled Goetz into physics and now teaching. Goetz, 22, has won a prestigious science teaching fellowship with the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation. She is one of 34 new high school math and science teachers in the nation to receive the fellowship.
The foundation invests $175,000 in training and resources in each recipient to ensure that high-caliber rookie teachers remain in the profession. Nationally, nearly half of all new teachers leave the profession within the first five years, while 95 percent of the Knowles fellows stay in teaching.
"We cannot improve science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education without recruiting and keeping excellent STEM teachers like Jenny in the profession," Nicole Gillespie, the Knowles Foundation director of teaching fellowships, said in a written statement.
Goetz earned a bachelor's degree in physics from Carleton in 2011 and is earning her teaching credentials from the University of Minnesota. She spent the last year at Woodbury Middle School tutoring sixth-graders as part of the Minnesota Math Corps.
Goetz worked with struggling students, helping them catch up in math.
"She is a natural talent, no doubt about it, and her enthusiasm is beyond compare," said Louise Hinz, a sixth-grade math teacher in Woodbury who oversaw her work. "You would not be able to tell her from some of our seasoned teachers. She's just got it."
Connected to teaching
Goetz immediately connected with her students by having each pair come up with a team name, Hinz said. She made learning interactive, asking questions and drawing out solutions. And she made math fun. She worked with food including trail mix and fruit to help students grasp fractions.
"It was challenging and character-building but it was a real blast," Goetz said.
Her journey to the classroom started years earlier, Goetz said.
In college, she was named Minnesota's International Year of Astronomy Student Ambassador by NASA. She received money to set up community and educational programming in Northfield.
She organized a community night at Carleton College's Goodsell Observatory and founded the Northfield High School astronomy club. To keep the high school astronomy club thriving, Goetz created a feeder program: She coordinated an astronomy summer camp for junior high students.
Youth culture's bias
Goetz said one of the biggest obstacles to success is overcoming the bad reputation math and science have among American youth.
"It's not cool to be smart and it's not cool to do science in the U.S. culture," Goetz said. "Students are so concerned about their image. I was kind of oblivious to that in high school."
Goetz wants her students to see that science can be hands-on and thrilling. And that it's part of everyday life.
In her free time, Goetz likes to paint and draw and she enjoys ballroom dancing.
Even then, she sneaks science into the conversation.
She was president of Carleton's social dance club. As she taught the waltz, she explained, "You are taking the momentum and transferring it between you."
Shannon Prather is a Twin Cities freelance writer.