Lauren DannerCollege alumna Lauren Danner was named Connecticut Teacher of the Year for 2017. After working for ten years as a research scientist, she found her calling as a teacher. She now shares her passion for science with high school students in North Branford, Connecticut. Here is what she said in an interview.

What was your major in the College? When did you graduate? With what degree?

My major was in diagnostic genetic sciences and I graduated in 1997 with a bachelor of science in that program.

What class was most useful to you?

Once I began taking classes within my major during the last two years, I loved all the classes. The most useful experience, and something I still use to this day, are all the techniques that I learned in my cytogenetics lab courses. All of the experiments that we did in those courses and learning how to conduct specific lab techniques and procedures were invaluable, and I still use that knowledge in my classes now as a teacher with students as they conduct lab work. Prior to teaching, I was a scientist for ten years and those courses really built a great foundation for me.

I was also asked by Martha Keagle, the director of the DGS program at the time, to be a lab assistant for one of her courses during my senior year. One of my first lessons was teaching parts of the microscope and setup so I got a little introduction to teaching way back then.

Tell us some of your fond memories of UConn.

It’s the lasting friendships and bonds that I made with the people in my dorm as well as in my classes. We lived in Towers and everyone told me that after my freshman year I’d be living in another dorm, but my friends and I loved it so much there that we stayed for all four years in Towers. And because of that we built lifelong friendships.

Within my major, we also had a great cohort so we were all very close, taking the same classes and relying upon each other to help with studying and successfully completing the classes together, which made the experience enjoyable as well.

As part of the DGS program we completed a clinical rotation and I spent the last six months of my senior year as an intern at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical School in New York City. I loved working in a cytogenetics lab and all the hands-on experience I received made me really comfortable and confident in that environment.

Please describe your current job.

I’m a ninth grade general science/tenth grade biology teacher at North Branford High School. I grew up in North Branford and I’m actually teaching in the same exact classroom that I was a student in. I’m in my seventh year of teaching and I’m also the grade nine through twelve science department leader.  We’re in the midst of transitioning to the Next Generation Science Standards so I’m working on changes and implementation of our new science curriculum. I also work with the elementary and intermediate school science leaders in our district to help develop a K-12 vision for our science program. I am a certified mentor for beginning teachers and I also enjoy leading professional development workshops on effective teaching strategies in the classroom.

Are you doing what you imagined you would be doing at this point in your life?

I feel like I’ve found my calling as a teacher. Teaching is a second career for me. I truly enjoyed working as a research scientist for ten years and in that time as I started training new employees, so many of them asked me if I had ever been a teacher or if I ever thought about teaching as a career in the future.  When the company I was working for ran out of funding, I found myself looking for a new job and decided to embark on a new career and share my enthusiasm for science through teaching.

It has been the most rewarding experiencing, sharing my passion and acting as a mentor to my students, especially when some decide to pursue a career in science. I could feel the impact that I was making on my students within the first few months and I quickly realized how wonderful this profession truly is.

Do you have advice for current students that will help them in the future?

Follow your heart and have a positive attitude. Choose a career path that you enjoy. I’ve found that I get to go on new adventures every day with my students and I love it.

Is there anything else you would like us to know about you?

My husband is a UConn alumnus. He graduated in 1997 with a degree in accounting, and we’re both proud alumni of UConn. We’re all avid UConn Husky fans in my family, including our sons, and one of our favorite hobbies is watching all the basketball games together.

I’m so honored to receive the 2017 Connecticut Teacher of the Year recognition. It’s something that I never dreamed would have happened, especially considering all of the great teachers in this state, but it’s an honor to be recognized and be given the opportunity to represent them. I am embracing the exciting opportunities that lay ahead as I look forward to meeting teachers from across the country and sharing our experiences.

By Jason M. Sheldon