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Teacher Appreciation Week: From Science Olympiad to Peanut Brittle

I don’t know about you, but this quarantine has made me painfully aware of what an important role teachers hold. I won’t lie--as a kid I viewed teachers as harbingers of endless homework, but with each passing year I’ve learned to be more and more grateful for those who helped me get to where I am today (though I’m not sure I can say the same for the homework).

As this week is Teacher Appreciation Week, I thought it’d be fitting to highlight one particular teacher from my high school who really inspired me to pursue STEM: Mrs. Stadler. At the time, she was my chemistry teacher and the scientific advisor for Science Olympiad (SciOly) at my high school. Science Olympiad is a national science competition that I like to describe as one where science meets a track meet. Students form teams and participate in ‘events’ from a variety of disciplines. Throughout my time in SciOly I participated in events like Forensic Science, Chemistry Lab, Protein Modeling, and Water Quality. I participated in SciOly for three years, and it was a gateway for me to discover new science fields (for instance, I learned about ornithology, the study of birds!) It was so fun, and I made a lot of my close friends through SciOly! And I also met Mrs. Stadler, the science advisor for our school’s team.

Before I joined SciOly in sophomore year, I had always seen Mrs. Stadler in the hallways, but she intimidated me because she taught the upper division chemistry classes (hey, as a freshman anything having to do with upperclassmen scares you!). My first impression of Mrs. Stadler was ‘Wow, she has great handwriting.’ My second impression of her was ‘Wow, she makes chemistry make sense!’ I signed up to participate in the chemistry events just so I could have Mrs. Stadler lead the group and explain difficult chemistry concepts to me (I remember particularly being confused about oxidation back then). Her dedication to making sure that our SciOly team kept learning every week and providing teaching resources for us made an immediate impression on me. I remember being co-captain of the team my senior year, and feeling overwhelmed the first week. There were several new events added to the list, and had no idea where to even start delegating tasks to my team members. I had never participated in any of the engineering events (ironic, I know) and was afraid that I couldn’t provide the help my teammates needed. Mrs. Stadler met me halfway and helped encouraged me to explore the events that I’m not comfortable with, for the sake of learning. Since my first year joining SciOly, I was (and still am) incredibly proud to say that I’ve had the privilege of competing at the national tournament every year. Ever since my first SciOly national tournament I became painfully aware that we were the only all-female team participating. From early on, this experience molded my determination to promote diversity in STEM.

In addition to SciOly, I took two of Mrs. Stadler’s classes that were offered. She would tell us stories of her undergrad days as a chemistry major at Rice, and then grad school studying theoretical chemistry as a Master’s student at UC Berkeley. And on top of that Mrs. Stadler returned to school to get her Master’s in Education! How inspiring amirite? I never liked chemistry until I took her classes. She had a way of explaining and interacting with students that made me realize that chemistry is not just about memorizing elements and reactions. She would go around each group during chemistry labs to connect what we had learned in class to what we observed on the bench. I distinctly remember making peanut brittle in lab class the week before Christmas break! I honestly never thought that cooking could be considered as chemistry until I made peanut brittle with flasks and beakers (cooking is 100% chemistry, food science is a thing folks!). I even considered majoring in chemistry in college...until I found out that college chemistry is a very different experience than high school chemistry. Nonetheless, I looked up to Mrs. Stadler and her eagerness to learn and share her knowledge with her students. She encouraged me to pursue STEM and explore different STEM fields that interested me. I took every science class that my high school offered, but Mrs. Stadler was my favorite science teacher and to this day I still attribute my interest in pursuing STEM to SciOly and Mrs. Stadler.

My SciOly team at 2012 Nationals! I was so proud (and tired after running around all day!)

Happy Teachers Appreciation Week all! Take some time to think and to thank those teachers who guided and inspired you to be where you are. No matter how much homework they assigned you.

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