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Pueblo High Science Teacher Wins National Biotechnology Award

Posted April 27, 2012

Pueblo Magnet High School science teacher Dr. Andrew Lettes received the Ron Mardigian Memorial Biotechnology Explorer Award, as part of the National Science Teachers Association (NTSA) 2012 Teacher Awards Program.

Lettes has brought biotechnology into the classroom for over ten of his eighteen years as a teacher. When TUSD's Career and Technical Education Program decided to offer a bioscience curriculum, Lettes was one of the first teachers onboard. At the time, he was teaching an AP Biology class but only six students were enrolled. He wanted to go beyond traditional topics to get more students engaged in science, particularly those students who might not see themselves as "scientists."

"I noticed that the students who were enthusiastic about heart dissections were even more enthusiastic about DNA fingerprinting," Lettes recalls. "Biotechnology jobs are on the rise in Tucson and I want to prepare my students for those jobs; so I developed a Biotechnology curriculum."

The Biotechnology Explorer Award recognizes teachers who have made biotechnology learning accessible to students and Lettes' curriculum has done just that. Pueblo serves a predominantly low-income Hispanic population – a population that is typically underrepresented in science, engineering, and technology fields.

"This program opens up doors to careers in science that students didn't realize had been closed to them," Lettes noted. "Students that were not interested in upper level science classes before are now lining up to take Biotechnology."

There are currently 105 students enrolled in the program with 140 interested in enrolling next year.

Dr. Lettes' former students have gone on to pursue degrees in neuroscience, molecular biology, and science education. Students who have gone on to pursue degrees in other areas have said that Lettes' class provided them with a strong foundation for their college science course requirements, and for the overall expectation of college studies.

As the recipient of the Biotechnology Explorer Award, Lettes received a $250 monetary gift, a $500 certificate for Bio-Rad products for his classroom, and a trip to attend the NSTA National Conference on Science Education in Indianapolis last month. Interesting tidbit: While at the conference, Lettes had the opportunity, among other things, to meet and talk science with television actress Mayim Bialik of The Big Bang Theory, who holds a Ph.D. in neuroscience both on TV and in real life. Bialik and Lettes both received their doctorates from UCLA.

For more information on Career and Technical Education Programs offered in TUSD, visit the Career and Technical Education Program Web site.

 Photo of Lettes and students
Pictured from left to right: Dr. Andrew Lettes;
Ramon Ocejo; Danitza Maldonado
 Photo of Lettes and students