Tech Graduate Student Wins Teaching Award

SOCORRO, N.M August 12, 2013 – A student in the Master’s of Science for Teachers program recently received the state teacher of the year award from the Air Force Association. Olga Vazquez wrote her thesis at New Mexico Tech while teaching at East Mountain High School. Now, her work has been recognized by many peers, students, and parents that nominated her for the award.

“I was actually surprised that I got state award,” Vazquez said. “I didn’t even know I was nominated. They came to see me the last day of school and said ‘Here’ and I had not even known I had won the regional one. My principal said, ‘Don’t tell her. Let’s wait to see if she gets state.’ I didn’t even know that I was in the running, so it was a nice surprise.”

OlgaVasquez-5inVazquez said she is thankful for the support she received, especially from George Becker, Dr. Lynn Deming, Dr. Dave Westpfahl, and Dr. Donald Wolberg, all of New Mexico Tech, and her principal, Doug Wine.

The award, offered through the Air Force Association, is presented to outstanding teachers and, in Vazquez’s case, for excellence in teaching science and mathematics. Vazquez said the award is decided regionally first and based on successful academic activities. She said she has taken students to academic competitions, improved test scores, and engaged students who have been previously uninterested in the sciences.

In her graduate studies at Tech, Vazquez wrote her thesis about 21st century skills for students that are necessary to be successful in academia and in the workplace. Vazquez finished her thesis in May 2013. She has worked with Tech instructors to expand her teaching resources and to involve her students in scientific pursuits such as principles in chemistry, robotics, and rocketry.

At East Mountain High in Sandia Park, Vasquez received many recommendations from her students, parents, peers, and mentors. She has taught an Integrated Physical Science and Chemistry class, a micro-electric mechanical systems class, and MESA (Math Engineering Science Achievement). Of the students she mentors in various science clubs and teams, about half are girls. Vazquez said she is interested in involving students in subjects such as robotics and rocketry and enjoys getting students involved in academic competitions at the state, national, and international levels. She said that she is also interested in getting students prepared for the real world early on. Last year she and 10 of her students visited the Czech Republic where they provided science training. Vasquez worked with Czech teachers and her students worked with about 600 Czech students.

Vazquez says she is further gratified to expand her horizons into new fields of science and engineering.

“My students enjoy robotics; I love robotics,” she said. “My students enjoy rocketry and I always do rocketry with ninth graders. They move on to what they are interested in. Just to see them having a good time, I have a good time, and it’s incredibly rewarding. When you have the tools, it’s incredibly rewarding. So I find that I enjoy more every year, and I am grateful to New Mexico Tech for giving me so many tools that make my job more effective and more enjoyable. As a teacher if you’re effective, you enjoy your job.”

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By David Wood/New Mexico Tech