Science teacher now a science advocate

Shawano students to get research help
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Pam Patterson-Anhalt has always had a passion for science.

Soon, she will be able to spend more time working to instill that same passion in students at Shawano Community High School.

The high school faculty member has been chosen among 45 teachers nationally to promote better science education and to debunk myths about the difficulty of scientific research.

The honor from the Society for Science & the Public comes with a $3,000 grant, as well as specialized training in how to mentor young would-be scientists.

Patterson-Anhalt, a former private sector chemist and researcher, is looking forward to working with select students during the 2017-18 academic year who have shown an interest and aptitude for scientific research.

The program is geared toward encouraging students to enter research competitions that often propel young people into science-based career tracks.

“This is really a cool thing,” Patterson-Anhalt said. “I’m thrilled.”

The Society for Science & the Public is a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., that publishes Science News magazine and also promotes understanding and appreciation of science education.

The organization last month announced 45 teachers throughout the country who have been chosen as special advocates to expand opportunities for students within their districts to engage in scientific research. Patterson-Anhalt is the only one selected in Wisconsin, except for a college instructor in Wausau.

It is the third year for the national group’s Advocate Grant Program.

Maya Ajmera, president of the society, said the organization was attracted to the Shawano teacher’s credentials not only in education, but also her previous work as a private-sector science professional.

“She’s had the best of both worlds,” Ajmera said. “We found that really compelling.”

Patterson-Anhalt began her career at Johnson Controls Inc., a Milwaukee-based manufacturer of batteries and other energy-related products and systems. She worked as a research chemist and chemical engineer for about 10 years before deciding to stay at home with her young children.

When she re-entered the job market years later, she landed her position on the faculty at Shawano Community High School, where she teaches chemistry and physics. She has been at the high school for about 15 years.

Many students are intimidated by science, Patterson-Anhalt said, and they are particularly unsure about rolling up their sleeves and conducting scientific research.

“I know the whole process,” she said. “So it’s perfect.”

Looking ahead to her work as an advocate next school year, Patterson-Anhalt already has heard from a few prospective students who might be good candidates for mentoring. She travels to Washington this week to learn more about how the grant program works.

She is excited about the possibility of using her unique background in science to help students go to the next level.

“I can show them that they can succeed, they can do well,” she said. “I want to show them it’s there.”