Spotlight: Raisa Eady (AL '19)December 2, 2019
A summer in a lab working on cancer drugs gave biology teacher Raisa Eady (AL '19) insight into the business of science and the wide variety of scientific careers—wisdom she’s passing along to her students. Raisa won Alabama’s 2019-20 Milken Award at Pinson Valley High School on October 9, 2019.
Milken Family Foundation: What made you decide to teach?
Raisa Eady (AL ’19): It was an easy decision for me. I knew I loved science, and I knew I loved school. I also had amazing teachers who had a significant impact on my life. I wanted to do the same for the upcoming generation.
MFF: What do you like about high school?
Raisa: I love teaching high school students for many reasons, but the most rewarding things are being able to foster positive relationships and serve as a supportive force in their future.
MFF: Were you surprised at your Milken Award notification?
Raisa: Words cannot begin to describe it. Surprised is an understatement indeed! I could not believe that the entire celebration was for me. When the announcement was made, it took about 30 seconds for my mind to even register the fact that it was me.
MFF: You spent a summer doing scientific research. What were you able to bring back from that experience to your classroom?
Raisa: I grew tremendously as an educator and a scientist during that summer. Before that, I was not very confident in my instrumentation skills. As a SIPSE [Summer Internship Program for STEM Educators] fellow at Southern Research, I obtained real experiences in a research lab. I worked with cell culture and tested cancer drugs. I also had the amazing experience of testing transgenic mice for CTLA4 expression.
I gained invaluable knowledge about contract science and how business is integrated into the world of research. In research, the scientific process can look very different from how we typically teach it in our science classrooms. I also became aware of the numerous career paths available in science. Therefore, I have made a conscientious effort to expose my students to career opportunities and unconventional methods in scientific research.
MFF: Your AP Biology program is growing. What new opportunities does advanced biology open up for your students?
Raisa: Because AP Biology is a college-level curriculum, it prepares them for post-secondary scientific and mathematical concepts. It also gives them experience with awesome instrumentation and technology such as gel electrophoresis and bacterial transformation. There’s also a strong focus on writing. Many students find their interest in the science world through my class. They also become more comfortable with critical thinking, analysis and application.
I have had many students contact me after graduation and say how well they have adapted to their college sciences due to the experiences they had in AP Biology. I even had one student say that she was double majoring in Microbiology and English due to the interest she gained in my course. She is planning to use her English major to write research proposals and grants.
MFF: How did students respond to your Milken Award? Has the Award had a lasting impact?
Raisa: My students were so excited and supportive. Students who have graduated have reached out to me to say congratulations, which means the world to me. It is still super early, but I am sure this will have a lasting impact on them. For one of their teachers to be celebrated on such a grand occasion is definitely an unforgettable experience.
MFF: Who are your role models?
Raisa: My role models as an educator are definitely my favorite teachers. When I entered education, I immediately thought of the amazing educators I was fortunate to have experienced during my journey of learning. Mrs. Candace Heard, my Honors and AP English teacher, taught me what it meant to excel and that being the best means making sacrifices. She also taught me that excuses were never going to allow me to transition to the next level.
MFF: What memories stand out from your first year of teaching?
Raisa: My first year was a great learning experience. As with most first-year teachers, I was hit with a number of experiences for which I was not prepared. I was ready to teach my kids, but other aspects were truly overwhelming. The amount of kids I had each day coupled with the IEPs, 504s, alternative school paperwork, lesson plans, mandatory faculty book review assignments ... my goodness!
Although there were many late nights, my school-level mentor helped me out tremendously. I cannot stress enough the importance of mentors for new teachers. Even though my first year was stressful, I loved it. That year confirmed that teaching was my passion and purpose.
MFF: How do you think you’ll use your $25,000 Award?
Raisa: As of right now, I do not have a definite plan. However, I have had my eye on a stainless steel double wall oven for quite a while.
MFF: How do you define “success”?
Raisa: It changes daily. Sometimes success means an idea or experiment working well. Sometimes it means having a moment when the concept finally “clicks” for a student. Or a student emailing me about how well they are doing in college. Either way, my “successes” are all centered on doing what is best for my kids.
MFF: When students leave your class, what do you hope they take with them?
Raisa: Although I truly love giving my students valuable experiences with biology, I hope they know that I will always care about them beyond the content. I care about their present and future endeavors. I want them to remember that I wanted them to be the best they could be. I want them to remember that I gave them my best, each and every day.
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