What motivates Waipahu High School teacher Michael Sana in his professional teaching career are his past and the obstacles he overcame to reach success.
Sana grew up in poverty and his mother developed Stage 4 cancer when he was in high school. She promised him that she would hang on until he graduated from high school if he promised her that he would someday finish college and make a difference in the lives of others. Both kept their promises.
When Sana started teaching AP Biology, there were 12 students. Now there are 40. He also teaches biology and medical biotechnology, the only instructor in the state certified with Rutgers University to teach biotech.
Sana's students conduct and publish authentic scientific research. Freshman and sophomore science students perform lab techniques such as the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), micropipetting, gel electrophoresis and protein extractions as well as creating genetically modified organisms in a hands-on, inquiry-based learning environment. Sophisticated work, indeed, but Sana has taken his instruction a step further, successfully guiding his students to 120 publications with the National Institutes of Health. He has also enabled them to gain on-site experience at places like the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Rutgers University, and has written and received grants that promise that the next 25 years will be an exciting time for the Hawaii Department of Education.
Sana was accepted to the prestigious Lawrence Livermore Teacher Research Academy, where he completed hands-on skill and knowledge development instruction over several summers. He also conducted cutting-edge Level-4 research for experiments with the bubonic plague.
In 2011, Sana secured a commitment from the Academy to mentor six Waipahu teachers, and another to partner with students in real-time science conferencing via video feed. He leveraged a federal Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness via Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) grant, and secured funding to further support the science department at Waipahu, which he chairs. He also received a grant to host a summer science scholars symposium for 40 students to work at Rutgers with their Waksman Institute of Microbiology researchers.
His students, whose end-of-course biology scores of 306 far outpace the state's average of 274, are high-achieving, and often participate in state and international science and engineering fairs, including the Intel Fair. His real-world, eclectic approach to learning and teaching continues to help reap scholarships for his students to such far-flung schools as Columbia University, the University of Southern California, the University of Pennsylvania and Occidental College.
Sana is a graduate of the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He received a bachelor's degree in biology in 1999, a post-baccalaureate degree in secondary education in 2001 and a master's in education in curriculum studies in 2012.
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