Throughout her seven years in education, Nicki Derryberry has become a leader whose passion for science is molding future generations. She started her teaching career as a student intern and teacher in the Chandler Unified School District, then became an instructional science specialist at the district. Derryberry is currently in her second year at Mesa Public Schools, serving as advanced STEM coordinator and a biotechnology teacher for grades 9-12 at Red Mountain High School. In all capacities, her high-powered teaching strategies have been noted for motivating students to chart career paths in the sciences.
Derryberry’s approaches to teaching are highly creative. She operates her classroom like a company, in which groups of students work at stations and are responsible for their own equipment and materials. This unique classroom structure helps her to engage students in a rigorous educational process, challenging them to think critically, problem-solve and master content-specific vocabulary.
The whole campus became captivated by Derryberry’s teaching when she created a mystery of the missing mountain lion—Red Mountain High’s mascot. She designed a crime scene and wrote a script. The scene was filmed and aired along with interviews of administrators, students and teachers. Derryberry’s biomedical science students collected DNA samples, analyzed shoe prints and made predictions based on evidence. The process taught them how to work to prove or disprove a hypothesis.
The results of Derryberry’s exemplary instruction were evident in the school’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) assessment scores and end-of-year student surveys. After her first year at Mesa, all of her students passed the Career and Technical Bioscience state exam, scoring higher than any other school in the district and 15% higher than students the previous year. Additionally, over 95% of her students passed the AIMS science assessment, with 62% exceeding the standard.
Outside of the classroom, Derryberry serves as the biotechnology team leader and representative for the School Improvement Committee. Consistently proactive at mentoring others and being mentored, she participates in weekly professional learning communities, connects with local K–12 and higher institutions, and presents at the district and state levels on STEM research and instructional best practices.
In Chandler, Derryberry established VEX Robotics throughout the district, and as a result of her guidance on the district science fair, students received more than 25% of Arizona Science and Engineering Fair awards, with many proceeding to the prestigious Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. She also co-directed a $350,000 Math and Science Partnership grant through the U.S. Department of Education that provided development trainings and resources to district science teachers in grades 6-8.
Dedicated to nurturing careers in science, she mentored a Chandler student through a competitive application process for an internship at Phoenix’s prestigious Barrow Neurological Institute; the teen was eventually chosen over hundreds of other applicants and now assists there in Alzheimer’s research.
Derryberry is a member and volunteer for the American Institute of Astronautics and Aeronautics in the areas of curriculum development and outreach as well as a member of the national and state science teachers associations. She graduated with a B.S. in biological sciences from the University of Missouri-Columbia in 2007, and honed her teaching skills at Arizona State University, from which she received her M.A. in secondary education in 2009 with an emphasis in science.