A presidential pursuit

Pencils scribble furiously as teacher Kathleen Dwyer asks for smiles of confidence once each student has finished solving the problem. Once each face is grinning ear-to-ear, Dwyer announces the correct answer to her students with the energy and enthusiasm of a sportscaster.

However, the members of today’s class look a little bit different than her normal audience of 10th to 12th graders. Today, she is teaching her fellow educators in the Master’s in Biology program at Washington University in St. Louis.

This commitment to learning in the K-12 classroom and beyond has put Dwyer among the top educators in St. Louis for many years. However this year, she was finally recognized nationally, earning the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

Each year the president recognizes up to 108 math, science and computer science teachers for their excellence in teaching. This year, Dwyer will be recognized as one of Missouri’s two recipients.

“There were a lot of steps to the process,” Dwyer said. In order to be considered, Dwyer said candidates for the award must be nominated, then submit recommendations, from peer educators, school administration, students, parents and community members, as well as samples of lessons, teaching philosophy and much more. After an intensive two-year application process, Dwyer’s wait is finally over.

“It’s so exciting,” Dwyer said. “Now, I get to go to DC, and I get to be among that group of powerhouse educators and learn what their challenges, their goals and their initiatives are.”

But this award is far from the end of her work in education.

Dwyer works with two Master’s in Biology students during the program’s Nuclear Energy Hot Topics workshop at Washington University in St. Louis. (Barajas | ISP Photo)

“I want to continue to work on helping teachers because it’s such a tough job,” Dwyer said. After over 15 years in the profession, she understands the strain on teachers better than most.

“Part of what I like about working with the Institute for School Partnership (ISP) at Washington University is having that opportunity to help teachers that are in districts that aren’t as supportive,” Dwyer said. The ISP provides free resources and professional development to teachers throughout the St. Louis area to help make equal access to high quality education a reality.

Dwyer said that as all districts are struggling financially, the ability to check out materials and gain professional development through Wash U is instrumental to teacher success.

Because Dwyer used the resources at Wash U to help her grow professionally, she feels strongly about giving back to teachers through Wash U programs.

Dwyer has been a teacher leader in the Photosynthetic Antenna Research Center (PARC) for the past two years, helping to develop curriculum and deliver professional development to teachers. Dwyer also interns in the laboratory of Dr. Srikanth Singamaneni, Associate Professor in the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

“It’s a nanotechnology internship, so I’m learning what some of the latest research is in nanotech,” Dwyer said. “As a science teacher it’s very exciting. Some of the things I’m seeing in the lab haven’t even been published in journals yet.”

The internship program allows Dwyer to get a firsthand look at cutting-edge research and then take what she learns back to her 10th-12th grade classroom at Maplewood Richmond Heights High School.

“[Cutting edge research] is much more interesting to students. They see the atom as something that was discovered 100 years ago, and who cares,” Dwyer said. “It’s inherently more interesting to students to see how it is being applied today to make better products, to better understand the universe.”

Despite what is on Dwyer’s agenda, whether it’s conducting research, serving as a teacher leader or being honored as a PAEMST recipient, one thing remains true: it’s always about creating the best educational opportunities for her students.

August 2015   |  by, Gennafer Barajas

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