Joan Christen teaches life science, earth science, physical science, biology, advanced biology, physiology and anatomy, physics, advanced physics, chemistry, advanced chemistry and environmental science. At the Southeast Consolidated School in tiny Stella, Nebraska, where 234 students attend grades 1 through 12, she is the science teacher.
After Christen's first year of teaching, the school almost lost her. Recruiters at the Cooper Nuclear Station, a Nebraska power plant where she had done an internship during college, offered her a job in their environmental department at a hefty pay raise.
"My first year had been exhausting, and the increase in salary was awfully tempting," Christen recalls. But she had already signed up for a summer program at Nebraska Wesleyan University, so before she made a decision, she spent 15 days in Lincoln with 11 other rural science teachers. The science and instructional-technology workshops of the HHMI-supported K-12 Science Teaching Institute were packed with hands-on lessons in biology, chemistry and physics, as well as ways to use computer-based technology and the World Wide Web to teach science.
Fall found Christen back at Southeast Consolidated, revitalized and eager to make a difference in young people's lives. In the four years since her summer at Nebraska Wesleyan, she has gone on to win $233,000 in grants to upgrade the school's computers and build an outdoor environmental-education classroom and greenhouse. She has added courses in advanced biology and second-year chemistry to her school's curriculum, completed work for a Master's of Science degree in entomology and convinced her school board to consider hiring a second science teacher. The National Association of Biology Teachers named her Nebraska's outstanding biology teacher of 2001.
Christen says she's glad she stuck with teaching. "I have had some exceptionally talented students, and I feel like I am making a difference in their lives," she says. "The children are our future, and I want and need to do my part." —Jennifer Boeth Donovan
Photo: Geoff Johnson
this story in Acrobat PDF format.
Reprinted from the HHMI Bulletin,
December 2001, pages 26-29.
©2001 Howard Hughes Medical Institute