For Dr. Suzanne Dashiell, science is more than just formulas on a blackboard or diagrams in a textbook.
Dashiell, a biology teacher at Urbana High School, motivates her students by moving science out of the realm of the theoretical and into the real world.
She organizes field trips to the Maryland Biology Lab, the Science Tech Center in Baltimore and Inova Hospital, where students can watch open heart surgery being performed.
For her efforts, she was recently named the Tech Council of Maryland’s 2012 Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Educator of the Year.
She teaches all levels of biology at the school, from Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes to lower-level and remedial students.
Some teachers are good at teaching high-level students but struggle with less gifted classes, but Dashiell teaches all levels with equal rigor, said Principal Kathy Campagnoli.
Known as “Dr. D” to her students, Dashiell is in her ninth year at Urbana and her 13th year teaching overall.
It’s not what you do inside the classroom that’s important, but helping students make real-world connections that will drive home the lessons they learn, she said.
Along with the field trips and guest speakers to help illustrate her lessons, she keeps her students up-to-date on possible internships, summer jobs and other extracurricular science-related opportunities.
Before entering the classroom, Dashiell worked as a research scientist at the National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Disorders.
When she got her doctorate, she thought about staying in the research field or academia, or maybe going to medical school. But she realized she could make more of a difference in the public school system teaching young people rather than around other scientists and doctors who already are established.
Some people think that teachers only want to do as little as possible, but most are in the classroom because they want to be, she said.
Dashiell’s background gives her a unique perspective and experience that a lot of other science teachers don’t bring to the classroom, Campagnoli said. According to Frederick County Public Schools, Dashiell is one of 19 classroom teachers in the county with a doctorate.
She finds ways to help her students make the information their own by giving them a chance to perform, design and evaluate their own projects rather than just presenting information to them, Campagnoli said. That approach challenges the students to think rather than just following a process.
“She makes them scientists with her,” Campagnoli said.