Santa Fe High School biology teacher Alejandra Gonzalez has been selected for the University of Chicago’s 2016 Outstanding Educator Award, an honor that recognizes exceptional dedication to her craft and the profound influence she’s had on her students, including on the former Chieftain who nominated her.
In each of the last 30 years, the university’s Office of College Admissions has received hundreds of letters from first-year students who nominate an educator who has inspired them, challenged them or changed the course of their lives through teaching and mentorship.
Gonzalez, a biology and Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) teacher at Santa Fe for nearly 11 years, was nominated by 2015 graduate Daisy Nahoul, who was awarded a $70,000-a-year QuestBridge Scholarship to the University of Chicago after demonstrating academic excellence despite facing significant financial obstacles. Nahoul is a molecular physics major and the first in her family to go to college.
“I am so humbled by this award and Daisy’s nomination,” Gonzalez said. “I feel privileged to have been her teacher/mentor. However, I take no credit for her success. I just contributed to making her aware of her ability, along with many other staff members at Santa Fe High School. I gave her a little guidance and, eventually, she took major strides in preparing for her future.”
It was while studying biology at Cal State Long Beach that Gonzalez noticed the lack of women, particularly Latinas, in the STEM field, often feeling intimidated, but persevered nonetheless. While working for the Girl Scouts of America during her undergrad, Gonzalez was inspired to instill a passion for the sciences in students and help put them on a path toward academic achievement.
“My job was to excite girls about STEM and provide them skills on which to build,” she said. “I soon realized I could do this forever, enjoy my work and, at the same time, make a change.”
Gonzalez is now Santa Fe’s science department co-chair and the adviser of a new STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) Club on campus.
“Ultimately, I try to motivate all my students to push through the challenges, prepare them for the demands of higher education and encourage them to go after their dreams,” Gonzalez said. “I want all my students, male and female, to know things worth working for are never easy.”
One such student who felt Gonzalez’s impact was Nahoul, who met the inspiring teacher during her freshman year in biology class. Over the next few years, Gonzalez encouraged the straight-A student to nurture her passion for the sciences and pursue academically enriching opportunities. Nahoul served as a math and science tutor in the school’s after-school program and, with the recommendation of Gonzalez, was selected for the COSMOS four-week math and science camp at UC Davis.
“I hope this recognition of one of our excellent teachers serves as a humble reminder to not only Alejandra, but to all of our educators, of why we chose this profession and why we do what we do,” Santa Fe High School Principal Craig Campbell said. “We may not always know the impact we have on our former students, but we are here to mentor them, inspire them and support them while they pursue their dreams. Teachers matter, and I want to congratulate Alejandra for being a life-changer.”