Chandler teacher honored for innovative approach The Chandler Arizonan

Chandler teacher honored for innovative approach

December 17th, 2020 Chandler Arizona Staff
Chandler teacher honored for innovative approach

By Kevin Reagan
Staff Writer

Rachna Nath, a biology teacher at Arizona College Prep-Erie, has been named Arizona Technology Council Teacher of the Year.

Nath was selected by the council from a group of applicants as the state’s top educator because of her commitment to encouraging students to think innovatively and creatively about their education.

Her students have already been recognized for their advanced projects aiming to solve relatable issues involving the environment, technology and health care.

They have invented products, marketed them, and attempted to sell them on the open market.

Four provisional patents have been obtained by Nath’s science students over the last couple years and two more are pending, she said.

Though she is not sure who nominated her for the council’s award, Nath said she’s thankful to be recognized for work that she genuinely enjoys.   

“That is something that is really fulfilling because you know that someone in the community really appreciates you for what you do for their kids,” she said.

Nath earned a $1,500 award that she plans to spend on supplies for her students to carry out their future projects.

In addition to teaching several science courses, Nath oversees several of Erie’s after-school clubs that allow students to study topics not commonly covered in the standard curriculum like biophysics, fossils and nutrition.

Nath’s research club instructs pupils how to develop entrepreneurial ventures, collect their own data, and apply for grant funding.

She said it’s easy motivating her students to come up with innovative ideas once they understand the long-term impact a successful project could have on their professional careers.

“I do what I do not for the recognition but to see the kids’ faces when they make something, establish a company, apply for a patent,” Nath said.

Nath’s own education journey is a testament to her tenacity and strength of character.

After earning a master’s degree in entomology and immigrating to the United States from India, Nath attempted to enroll in a doctoral program to continue her studies.

But she struggled to find a program willing to take her on and her career began to flounder.

She accepted an adjunct teaching position at Mesa Community College and worked her way into Arizona State University’s honey bee lab by handing out her resume to unsuspecting professors.

One of them took a chance and let Nath volunteer her time studying honey bees in an attempt to potentially earn a doctoral degree.

But Nath’s plan was interrupted when her advisor relocated to Germany before she could finish her degree.

Not one to feel discouraged, Nath decided to return to teaching by accepting a job at ACP-Erie in 2017. Her life hasn’t been the same since she started teaching in Chandler, she said.    

The rapport Nath’s developed with her students is extraordinary, she said, and her classroom has become a safe place for students to explore their scientific imagination.

“They see me as a person whom they can trust – whom they can carry the torch forward for.”

Nath’s innovation journey started a couple of years ago after stumbling upon an email in her spam folder advertising a grant opportunity from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

She encouraged her students to consider entering the contest by coming up with a scientific project they were passionate about.

Her students didn’t win the grant, but Nath said the experience pushed her to seek out any opportunity she could find that could help her students win grant funding.

Since then, Nath’s been praised by Chandler Mayor Kevin Hartke by her ability to push her students to their greatest potential.

Her students have attracted publicity for inventions that can monitor a patient’s body temperature in real time, purify water and boost WiFi signals, among others.

Even if a project or invention doesn’t turn out as expected, Nath said she’s quick to remind her students to never give up and to keep trying.

“I feel that I’m just creating people who are not afraid of failure, who are not afraid to make mistakes, who are not afraid to go the extra mile to make their dreams come true,” Nath added.

And despite her successes, Nath said she doesn’t think of herself as doing anything beyond what any other teacher would do for their students.

“I consider myself a very normal teacher who just tries to help the kids as much as they want,” she said.

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