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Rachna Nath of Arizona College Prep: “One priority is to make sure education is available online”

One priority is to make sure education is available online. Although more courses are being conducted online, many classes are still classroom oriented. Another priority is to continue to expand the use of project-based learning, which allows students to direct their own learning as well as tackle real issues. To do project-based learning well, more […]

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One priority is to make sure education is available online. Although more courses are being conducted online, many classes are still classroom oriented. Another priority is to continue to expand the use of project-based learning, which allows students to direct their own learning as well as tackle real issues. To do project-based learning well, more emphasis should be placed on student research. Connecting online education, project-based learning and solid research to real-world problems may lead to solutions far beyond the classroom walls.


As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rachna Nath, Teacher and STEM Coordinator, Arizona College Prep — Erie, in Chandler, Arizona.

Rachna Nath is an internationally and nationally recognized innovator who is also an entrepreneur, grant writer, STEM enthusiast and passionate educator. She has two masters’ degrees: one in entomology from Cotton College, India, and another in biology (developmental genetics) from Arizona State University. There, she worked on honeybee exocrine gland ontology. Nath won the Governor’s Celebration of Innovation Award in 2020, the Global Innovation Award from Turnitin in 2019, an Honorable Mention for the Presidential Innovation Award for Environment Educators, and two Excite Awards from the Lemelson-MIT Foundation.


Can you share the “backstory” behind what brought you to this particular career path?

My first professional position was as an adjunct professor at a community college. Then I veered into the sciences. I worked as a lab tech at the United States Department of Agriculture; then on the Honeybee Project at Arizona State University Polytechnic; and finally with the social insect research group, where I dissected the salivary glands from the heads of honeybees.

I’ve applied what I learned in those positions — using scientific inquiry to try to solve real-world problems — to my current position as a high school science teacher at Arizona College Prep in Chandler, Ariz. I teach Honors Biology, AP Environmental Science and Honors Science Research; and I serve as the school’s STEM Coordinator. I also run seven after school clubs: Research, Biophysics, Future Medical Professionals, Smoothie Making and Nutrition, Environmental Waste, UNICEF, and Marketplace.

When I work with my students, I always say, “Let’s come up with an idea. Let’s try this.” In that way we look at how to solve problems. When it comes time to take our ideas to the next level, my students and I write grants. We have won a grant from Arizona State University’s Healthy Urban Environments to collect data on detecting heat stress using wearable tech like heat stress bands, and we’re working on a National Science Foundation Grant that has to do with space, and a United Nations grant for women’s empowerment.

I am honored to have received international recognition for my work as an educator. In 2019, I received an honorable mention in the 2019 Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators; in 2020, a Carnegie Global Innovations and a Governor’s Award from the Arizona Technology Council. Additionally, I received a grant from the Bill Gates Foundation and was recognized in the 2019 Turnitin Global Innovations Award, as their North American Secondary Education winner. Turnitin’s PeerMark ensures my students understand the importance of doing their own best work in their grant-writing presentations and it helps me to teach them about being responsible and maintaining integrity.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your teaching career? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I learned that a ninth-grade student who had lost interest in school liked robotics and programming, I connected his interests to education. I asked him if he could help a six-year-old girl who had difficulty handling her wheelchair while using her iPad. He began working on an artificial arm the girl could use both on and off her wheelchair to steady her iPad. That experience showed me how important it is for educators to find what sparks our students’ passions and tie that to education. Working on this project to benefit someone else was the vehicle to get a low-performing student back on track so he could fulfill his high potential. I try to give all my students these types of learning — and life-changing — opportunities.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

My high school students have several ideas for new products that they have presented to the city’s incubator program for entrepreneurs. One is a machine for extracting pure drinking water from things and places you wouldn’t expect to get it — even from cow feces. Other students are working with honeybees to test caffeine addiction and learn how solitary or social environments affect addiction. Also, through an Arizona State University Healthy Urban Environments grant, my students are collecting data on detecting heat stress using wearable tech.

These are just a tiny percentage of the projects my students are working on. You never know where new ideas come from, and quite possibly something big will come from my students’ work. My students have four patents pending.

From your point of view, how would you rate the results of the US education system?

One thing that I would definitely say is an advantage in the American education system is that age is not a limitation. At any age, you can continue to learn more and seek careers and possibilities. That freedom to learn and change is important, and it’s something I continue to experience and share with my students.

Can you identify 5 areas of the US education system that are going really great?

As I mentioned above, the importance the US education system places on lifelong learning is one of its strengths. There are opportunities no matter one’s age. The innovations in the American education system are important as is its appreciation of creativity. It is through creativity that so many innovations that improve the world are born. The ability to conduct project-based learning, which allows students to engage in learning activities beyond classroom constraints, is also an area in which the US education system excels. Finally, the US education system’s use of national and state-level education standards is an area it does particularly well. These standards provide guidance and accountability for teachers. However, for the US education system to also look at standards globally, as universal standards, would also be nice.

Can you identify the 5 key areas of the US education system that should be prioritized for improvement? Can you explain why those are so critical?

One priority is to make sure education is available online. Although more courses are being conducted online, many classes are still classroom oriented. Another priority is to continue to expand the use of project-based learning, which allows students to direct their own learning as well as tackle real issues. To do project-based learning well, more emphasis should be placed on student research. Connecting online education, project-based learning and solid research to real-world problems may lead to solutions far beyond the classroom walls.

Also, more emphasis should be placed on students taking the scientific method to the next level, to use it to defend their thoughts and ideas. I love the idea of scientific debates. Debates don’t have to be restricted to language arts courses. They can, and should be, done in all education departments: biology, physics, chemistry, literature and mathematics.

Finally, students need to work in environments in which educational fields are connected rather than in solitary domains.

Can you please share your “5 Things You Need To Know To Be A Highly Effective Educator?”

To be an effective educator, you need to be aware of your students’ needs and meet them. Students learn in different ways, and you can teach more strategically when you know your students. Educators need empathy and compassion as well. To educate, you also need to connect with your students on a personal level. If you know where your students are, and you know their backstories, you can teach successfully. This level of connection, of teaching and learning, cannot happen well if your teaching consists of just lectures and PowerPoints. Good teachers do more. You must also share your failures as well as your successes with your students. Failure is as much a part of the learning process as success. Beyond that, there needs to be a commitment to mentoring throughout a school — and mentoring needs to be for all students. Mentoring is an educational necessity, and in my school every student has a connection to a teacher.

As you know, teachers play such a huge role in shaping young lives. What would you suggest needs to be done to attract top talent to the education field?

To attract talented new educators, we need to provide more role models. Future teachers need to see and hear successful educators who use new and innovative ideas. While role models may be from a local district, that’s not always the case. Unless local role models have been exposed to new ideas, they will have a limited knowledge base. Aspiring educators can also look outside their districts for role models — at conferences, on online venues, and on education-oriented social media sites.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

This quote from my father, who is a cricketer, is my absolute favorite: “If the bowler gives you a bouncer — duck! It will bounce and hit you in the face, but when you get a perfect delivery hit it for a sixer!” That is, you may have to wait for an opportunity, but when you get a chance to do something, make the best of it. Hit a sixer!

I believe this quote applies to my career trajectory. I did my best in every job I’ve had, and each one led to another exciting and challenging position.

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why?

If I could sit down with anyone for a conversation it would be the Obamas. Michelle and Barack Obama communicate so well, their relationship as husband and wife is so supportive, and they are so confident. They are outstanding role models.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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