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Inspiring Scientific Passion

Christine Sapio

Science Teacher, Coconino High School

2005 BS in Physical Science and Secondary Education


As a science teacher at Flagstaff-based Coconino High School (CHS), Northern Arizona University (NAU) alumna Christine Sapio has been a success. For instance, she helped turn a group of high school students with no knowledge of robotics into a nationally-competitive FIRST robotics team. As the department chair for the Coconino Institute of Technology, which is the CHS accelerated science and engineering program, she routinely guides students through the difficult process of finding practical applications for scientific concepts. But Sapio is more than just an excellent scientific mentor: in fact, one of her greatest strengths lies in teaching her own students the value of teaching others.

"My students do a lot of presenting—they've presented to the city council and to the school board multiple times," she says. "The experience teaches them how to articulate what it is that they know. It's easy for technically savvy high school students to understand a concept themselves, but to teach it to someone else helps my students learn on a whole new level."

According to Sapio, her approach to creating well-rounded science students was something that she learned as an undergraduate student in the College of Education at NAU. She had a number of teachers that she describes as "role models": but it was her student teaching experience—at CHS—that really cemented all the lessons she had taken from the classroom.

"When I student-taught, I experienced how interactive science and engineering could be," she says. "I thought, 'Wow. This is exactly how I want to see myself teaching.'"

Sapio, who was an honors physics student during her time at the university, was impressive enough as a student teacher at CHS to be hired upon graduation. She began to make an impact almost immediately. At the beginning of her second full year as a teacher, Sapio responded to a request by a group of freshmen physics students to start a FIRST robotics team. When the team—named the CocoNuts—began, no one knew a thing about robotics. Under Sapio's guidance, however, the CocoNuts worked their way to the FIRST world robotics team championships—in one year. More importantly for Sapio, however, was the opportunity to teach her team the value of being a role model.

After their first experience at the robotics competition, the team set the goal to return the following year. In order to attend the competition, a team must either build the best robot or win something called the Chairman's Award, which celebrates a team who serves as a role model in the competition. The team determined to strive for the Chairman's Award and set out to serve the community, mentor younger students, and act as a role model for Gracious Professionalism.

As part of that effort, Sapio helped her students get involved with a number of community initiatives, including working with younger students to help them see the value—and beauty—of science. For Sapio, who was highly active during her time at the university, getting involved in the community is critical to success in any endeavor. But, she says, getting involved is especially important for future teachers.

Sapio's advice to future teachers is to focus on connecting with the students. "If you know how to develop relationships with kids then you can teach anything. You can always learn the subjects—it's the relationships you develop that are important."