Connections: Linking Talented Educators
Connections: Linking Talented Educators

Spotlight: Nicki Derryberry (AZ '15)

March 17, 2016

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Nicki Derryberry (AZ '15) planned to pursue a career in medicine but fell in love with the classroom as a student teacher during her master's program. She received her Milken Educator Award at Red Mountain High School in Mesa on November 16, 2015. 

Milken Family Foundation: How did you end up in education?

Nicki Derryberry: I was not planning to become an educator. I fell in love with science at a young age and planned to pursue medicine. After completing my undergraduate degree and a few years of chemistry research, I traveled as a consultant for a year and was offered a job in Arizona that would cover the cost of graduate school. At that point, the College of Education was one of the only programs still accepting applications, so I decided to pursue a Master's in Curriculum and Instruction, allowing me to obtain my teaching certificate and master's at the same time. I fell in love with teaching science during the student teaching portion of the program and the rest is history.  

MFF: What was your first job ever?

Nicki: Refereeing soccer games. I learned responsibility and the importance of knowing the rules before stepping foot on the field.  

MFF: Who was your own most memorable teacher?

Nicki: In my professional career it's Dr. Nicolle Karantinos. She has challenged me, supported me, and inspired me to be a better leader and teacher. She is deeply immersed in research and always listens to the input of others. Dr. Karantinos has made me into the educator I am today and continues to impact the world of education. 

My most memorable teacher in my own K-16 education is Dr. Ken Kramme. He challenged me in high school chemistry and inspired me to ask questions and think about the world differently. Dr. Kramme also influences the way I teach in the classroom today. 

MFF: Tell us about your first class.

 Nicki: My first class was an incredible group of students. My most memorable moment from the first year is one student in particular, Jose. Jose struggled in his classes and did not feel confident in his answers, but I knew he was beyond capable. By the end of the year, Jose was receiving A's on his science tests.

MFF: A student is thinking about a career in education. What do you say?

Nicki: I would share the impact they can make on students' lives on a daily basis. 

MFF: What impact do you think your Milken Educator Award presentation had on students at your school?

Nicki: A greater respect for education, for teachers in general, and the impact educators can have on the world. I also hope they gained an interest in Biotechnology.

MFF: What's your favorite time of the school day?

Nicki: My favorite time of the school day is every moment that I am interacting with students and especially when they ask questions to better understand the world around them. I also enjoy opportunities to develop programs and seek out unique experiences for students that will impact their future. 

MFF: If someone gave you a million dollars for your school, what would you do with it?

Nicki: We would use the money to transform education and create a STEM school that provides students with unmatched experiences. We would leverage community and university partnerships to provide students with STEM experiences, allowing them to apply their knowledge. Students would complete research projects that have a global impact and intern in research facilities, engineering firms, and hospitals. 

MFF: When you retire (someday), what do you want your former students and colleagues to say about you?

Nicki: I would want them to say that I helped them to think about the world differently, analyze systems and processes, and realize that they can make a difference. I want students to say that I helped them to think and truly understand science as opposed to just memorizing facts and "doing school." 

MFF: If you hadn't chosen a career in education, what would you be doing right now?

Nicki: Genetics research or exploring space!

MFF: Finish this sentence: "I know I'm succeeding as an educator when..."

Nicki: When students have a desire to question to better understand systems and processes and are able to explain their thoughts using evidence...and when students are having fun exploring the world around them and are not afraid to fail!

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