STEM Teacher of the Year: Alyse Sobosan

Alyse SobosonAlyse Sobosan was named one of six 2018 STEM Teachers of the Year by the Governor's Office of Science, Innovation, and Technology. Sobosan has taught a range of science courses including Earth Science, AP Biology, and Science Foundations. She currently teaches Anatomy/Physiology and Biology at Equipo Academy in Las Vegas, Nevada. At Equipo Academy, she also acts as a Professional Learning Community leader, an instructional coach, pathway developer, and STEM advocate. 

Alyse, congratulations on being named STEM Teacher of the Year! You stand out as a STEM teacher leader in many ways, and at your school, you wear many professional hats: instructional coach, PLC leader, teacher, STEM Teacher of the Year. Which do you prefer, and why? 

I'll definitely always prefer the role of teacher. I had the opportunity to leave the classroom before, and I came back because I missed the close relationships you build with students over the course of a year as their teacher. The reward you feel when a student thanks you for helping them learn something, tells you that they enjoyed the lesson, shows you their college acceptance letter or tells you that your class is the reason they are majoring in science in college is the ultimate motivator.

What wonderful celebrations for both you and your students. I hear your school community has a big accomplishment to celebrate, as well!

Yes, every one of our graduating seniors last year graduated with an acceptance letter to a 4-year university! They are all first-generation college students, and many of them were the first to graduate high school in their family. To my knowledge, this is a first for a high school in East Las Vegas. And we're on track to do it again with this year's senior class!

Equipo Academy is a college preparatory school, and to further support your students in their college goals, you're also a leader in developing Equipo Academy's Advanced Placement program and career pathways. Tell us about the school’s new pre-med program and your role in its development. 

Many of our students are interested in pursuing careers in Medicine, Nursing and the Allied Health Professions, so it only seemed natural to offer a "Pre-Med" focus or concentration to help harness these interests at a young age, and provide students with the skills and content they need to be successful in a college pre-medical program. I started off by simply bringing classes to our school that could help to prepare students and give them an advantage in college admissions, including AP Biology and an elective Anatomy/Physiology course. I crafted a simple course pathway that helped students to plan their four-year high school course map so they could take these advanced science courses. From there, I partnered with our Director of College Access to find summer programs that would give students experiences in science at various universities, and I helped students apply and attend these programs. Ultimately, our goal is to help each student in the pre-med program match with an internship in the health field before they graduate high school, and this is a goal I hope to reach in the next year or two.

That goal is achievable with a strong school community. From your experience coaching at your site, what is something you’ve found to be crucial in a school community for STEM to thrive?

I think the most crucial aspect a school needs in order to have a thriving STEM program (or any program, really) is strong, open-minded and reflective teachers. Much like the process of scientific thinking, developing and maintaining a STEM program requires that you try new things in your classroom, evaluate the evidence on its effectiveness and then reflect on your practice and reinvent again. As a teacher, you are constantly learning alongside your students, and this requires that teachers are open to trying new things. This is why I love working with the teachers at my school! We are always reflecting and reinventing our practice in order to truly bring STEM into our classrooms and engage our students in science.

Well, you’ve been successful in supporting both your colleagues and students in this way, and the Governor’s Office of Science, Innovation, and Technology is happy to recognize your work. With the STEM Teacher of the Year title, you also received a $1,000 award, sponsored by University Medical Center of Southern Nevada (UMC). How do you plan to use the award? 

Since our school is fairly new (we are in our fourth year), we are still building a stock of basic lab supplies and equipment. With this award, I'll be able to buy some supplies for our entire department (glassware, scales, hot plates, etc.), as well as some specific supplies for my Anatomy/Physiology students (stethoscopes, blood pressure monitors, etc.). With these supplies, I will be able to make sure our courses continue to become more inquiry-driven, hands-on and engaging!

Before we end, what is one piece of advice you can give to teachers who want to increase access to STEM?

Be creative and be persistent! You can find ways to incorporate STEM even if your school doesn't have an unlimited supply budget, or if your students are still struggling to master content. Try something new, and don't be afraid to fail the first few times. 

Thank you, Alyse, and best of luck during the 2018-2019 school year!