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Dr. Anna Arias Awarded the 2018 Michael Pressley Award for a Promising Scholar in the Education Field

Audrey Scott on Thursday, 12 July 2018.

Dr. Anna Arias 2018 Pressley Award

“How do you make rainbows?”

Dr. Anna Arias asked her students this question, and then she stepped back.

“Watching them play with the prisms, figure it out, think it through–it’s a delight to see them do that. I enjoy helping students figure out how to learn and figure out the science themselves,” she says.

Anna, a member of ACE 12 (Oklahoma City), is the 2018 recipient of the Michael Pressley Award for a Promising Scholar in the Education Field in recognition of her dedication to researching the science of education and teacher development, as well as the design and production of elementary science materials. The award is given annually to an ACE graduate whose work in academia echoes Dr. Pressley’s commitment to strengthening education through research and scholarship.

When Anna was little, she didn’t stop at having just one imaginary friend–she went for a whole class. “I used to tell them what to do. That was fun,” Anna says. “I don’t remember what I taught them. I think maybe dance.”

Dr. Anna AriasScience may be a far cry from dance, but Anna knew early on she enjoyed teaching. She entered Notre Dame as an undergraduate with an eye toward combining biology and education. “I was considering a role in public health–educating people about how their body works and how sickness happens,” she says.

As she puzzled out what to do after graduation, she looked for something that would support her growth as a teacher and person. “ACE gave me both of those spaces,” Anna says.

ACE taught her that she needed tools to be the strongest teacher she could be, that resources existed to help her, and that she should ask for help when she needed it.

In ACE, I learned how to be strong, but also that I couldn’t be perfect,” says Anna. “Having a community that helped me realize that was okay, and that I could still be a good teacher, a teacher who cared and helped students learn, was very important to me.” 

After ACE, Anna taught for three years in Atlanta at Immaculate Heart of Mary School, where she enjoyed seeing how her students learned science. Still, something was missing. “I had more questions and I wanted more answers,” Anna says. “I felt like I wanted more information about how to teach students.”

Anna decided to pursue a Ph.D. in Science Education from the University of Michigan, where she worked alongside advisor Dr. Elizabeth Davis and scholar Dr. Annemarie Palincsar on a research project that examined how to best support teachers through curriculum and available resources. Anna says her research and studies focused on how teachers, particularly beginning teachers, find and use curriculum materials and develop their own teaching practices. “There are so many lesson plans and curricula created, and educators are just expected to find them and know how to use them,” she says. “I work to support teacher learning in this area.”

“Through ACE, I learned that I needed to see the children, the students I was working with, as people who mattered.”

After graduating from Michigan, Anna researched preservice teachers’ development, as well as the design and use of curricular materials in elementary science classrooms as an assistant professor of science education in the School of Teaching and Learning at Illinois State University. This fall, she will be continuing her work at Kennesaw State University in Georgia.

Anna says she doesn’t have a “typical day,” but she spends a good deal of her time with in-service teachers and preservice teachers. “I see myself as an educational researcher, so I am thinking about how people, especially teachers, learn, modify, and adapt,” she says. “I think about all those things in the context of science and science education.”

Anna believes students deserve good teachers and is committed to strengthening education through research and scholarship. “Students deserve to learn more about how the world works, how they fit in that world, and how to make decisions that are meaningful for society and for their own lives so they are able to become the people they want to be,” she says.

ACE taught me to aspire to be a teacher who listens, who cares, and who loves,” Anna says. “Through ACE, I learned that I needed to see the children, the students I was working with, as people who mattered.” Teaching in a Catholic school allowed Anna to recognize that teaching was about seeing Jesus in her students and seeing their gifts and talents. “That was what was most important.”

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