Tell us about your work/research. What kinds of things do you do?
After majoring in marine biology I became a science teacher, and have continued to pass on what I know to the next generation for more than two decades. Teachers who are passionate about science flame those same sparks in students. Nothing gives me more joy than the "aha!" moment when students learn a concept that they didn't understand before or knew nothing about, and suddenly it changes the way they think about the world in which they live. Even though the students I teach live hours from the coast they learn to see their direct connection with the ocean, from the runoff in the parking lot to the stream that flows through campus, all the way to the river, the sound, and the global ocean. By giving students in our small town real-world problems and having them do analysis or find solutions they quickly learn to see themselves as a piece of the ecosystem in which they live and the global community.
What sparked your initial interest in your career?
I have always enjoyed teaching, and after taking courses in Deaf culture and American Sign Language in college I steered my career toward the education of the Deaf, hoping to do my part to improve learning outcomes for a vastly underserved student population. I first taught math and science at Austine School for the Deaf in Vermont, which has since closed. I loved my time at Austine, working with Deaf colleagues and teaching classes in my second language. Many of my students came from hearing families who didn't sign at all, and this left significant gaps in their background understanding about how the world works. It is so rewarding to open a new piece of the world to the scientists I teach. Working in a small school environment provides unique autonomy and flexibility to try new ways of teaching and learning that I have grown to cherish. It has allowed me to engage in some exciting projects with my students as I transitioned to teaching hearing students at small public schools. Students love the hands-on projects - building trebuchets and rockets, floating student-made Go-pro rafts down the rapids, and mucking about in the intertidal zone collecting data. The science standards are the same, but every year's teaching experience is different, which keeps me looking forward to the next big thing.
Who influenced you or encouraged you the most?
My high school science biology and chemistry teachers were outstanding, encouraging their students to pursue their interests and sharing their own passions with every class. As a middle and high-school teacher throughout my career, I have sought to emulate this with my own students. In my undergraduate studies at the University of New Hampshire, it was the rich knowledge and consuming passion of my professors that spurred me on, providing opportunities to make discoveries on my own and pursue passions.
What element of your work/study do you think is the most fascinating?
One of my favorite units to teach is about single-celled and microscopic organisms. Students will put a drop of brown water from the fish tank filter under a microscope for the first time, and what they find moving around under the lens blows their mind (and often mine, too!) It is so rewarding and fascinating to watch them opening up the portal into a whole new piece of the ecosystem and listening to the excitement in their voices as they call each other over to see the wiggling, creeping blobs and worms, and lightning-fast flagellates zipping around.
What other jobs led you to your current career?
One of the coursed I took in college was an Environmental Education course offered by the Seacoast Science Center in Rye, NH. I learned how to lead field trip expeditions into the intertidal zone and salt marsh as well as the historical structures and forest areas of Odiorne State Park. After the class was over I continued to work at the science center as a field trip leader, camp counselor, and naturalist in the exhibit hall. It was the first job to let me use my passions of teaching and marine science, and it gave me great experience for diving into a career as a science educator.
What are your degrees and certifications?
Bachelor of Science in Marine and Freshwater Biology - University of New Hampshire, 1995
Masters of Art in Teaching with Technology - Marlboro College, 2001
What are your hobbies?
I am a prolific poet and have competed at the national level six times at the National Poetry Slam. As a staff member a weekly poetry open mic I serve as a staff photographer and frequently host. When not away performing poems I am at home being a dad to two great kids, playing lots of board games and introducing them to my favorite book series which we still read together every day at their request, no matter how old they are becoming.
How did you get involved with the Ocean Exploration Trust?
After attending a workshop with Ocean Exploration Trust staff three years ago I learned about the Science Communication Fellow program. I have been to workshops with OET at several conferences since then, and the video footage I saw each time made me long to get back into the field again Each winter I would tell myself "this is the year I am going to apply," but summers and school years always filled up too quickly. This year my New Year's resolution was to make it happen, and I'm so glad I finally did.
What advice would you give someone who wants to have a career like yours?
If you want to be a contented science teacher, you first want to find a great school (public or private, but consider school climate, not just the salary) and give your students a new experience every day. Provide examples of role models in science that look like all of your students - not just the white guys. Invite career scientists into your classroom as guests, physically or virtually. Get your students outside to learn from nature in nature whenever possible. Public school teaching in this generation can be incredibly rewarding and also intensely draining, so choose your school wisely and don't stay in a place that isn't refreshing you on the good days. Above all, make your mark wherever you are. Be the crazy science teacher with the DNA sneakers and tie-dyed lab coat getting the students to do the three hot new science dances at the semi-formal (the flagella, the cilia, and the pseudopod.) Cheer from the bleachers at their sports games and coach after-school clubs, so there's more connecting you than grades and homework.