16 Aug Alumni Board Scholar Profile: Q&A with 1998 Scholar Susan Nicholson-Dykstra
Members of the Boettcher Scholar Alumni Board are interviewing their fellow Boettcher Scholars to help the community get to know one another better. The following Q&A was compiled by Boettcher Scholar Angelique Diaz.
University of Denver, BS, molecular biology (with minors in leadership and chemistry), 2002
Dartmouth College, Ph.D., biochemistry, 2008
University of Denver, MA, curriculum instruction, 2010
Tell us about your current work and how long you’ve been doing it. What is your favorite aspect of your current occupation?
My current role is director of teacher education accreditation for the University of Maine at Farmington. I collect and analyze data about our teacher candidates and programs, then assemble that data into a story to demonstrate how our programs meet the national standards for teacher preparation — my work truly combines my experience as an educator, an educational researcher, and a scientist. Having had the opportunity to complete such a fantastic teacher prep program (Boettcher Teacher Residency), it’s really invigorating to help innovate and improve another teacher preparation program that has a similar focus on community, relationships, and serving diverse students.
What role has being a Boettcher Scholar played into where you are and what you are doing now?
The Boettcher Scholarship opened opportunities I never could have imagined! As a Scholar, I attended DU where I joined the Pioneer Leadership Program, conducted research, and made amazing and brilliant lifelong friends. DU prepared me to enter a doctoral program where I conducted research and mentored students. The Boettcher Teacher Residency provided both a route back to Colorado and a transition from the lab to the classroom where I could share my passion for science. As a Boettcher Teacher Resident, I again joined an amazing cohort of leaders, and spent six years teaching science and conducting research with CU’s Streamline to Mastery Program. All of these experiences coalesced to provide the preparation for my current position. Truly, all roads lead back to Boettcher!
Tell us about your involvement in activities, organizations, or groups outside of work.
While in Colorado, I helped to start an annual Girls Engineering Day experience for girls at our school to partner and learn with female STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) leaders and students in the Denver/Boulder community. I also cosponsored our school’s MESA (Math Engineering Science Achievement) club. As a STEM teacher in Colorado, one of my favorite places to shop was RAFT (Resource Area for Teachers) — I was there so frequently that I got to serve on their Teacher Advisory Board!
Now in Maine, my partner and I have started a small hobby farm (with goats, chickens, and alpaca, oh my!), we play ice hockey, and we volunteer with MOFGA (Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association).
What’s the best advice you’ve received and what advice do you have for current graduates entering your career field?
I still reflect back on the words of one of my middle school teachers, who recruited me in high school as an AVID tutor and helped me to discover my passion for teaching (she is also the teacher I got to recognize as a Boettcher Scholar!) Heather Ahrenkiel told me that, no matter where I was, regardless of the situation, environment, or economic status, there would always be kids who needed a great teacher, who needed me. I have carried those words with me for nearly two decades — they inspire me to understand my students and peers, to know their stories, and to find ways to help them shape their own paths for the future.
For current graduates in education, I would reiterate her words. Our students need you — they need amazing leaders who care about them, who will be their advocates, and who will teach them to advocate for themselves. Teaching is unquestionably the most challenging thing I’ve ever done, but it is also absolutely fulfilling. You might not see the impact immediately, or ever, but you WILL change the world through your work each and every day.
If you could have dinner with one person or a few people from history, whom would you choose and why?
I would love to sit down for dinner with Wangari Maathai — I had the opportunity to hear her speak about 12 years ago and have always been inspired by her advocacy for women and the environment. I would truly enjoy a good conversation with Temple Grandin, as I’ve appreciated her impact on research and advocacy for humane treatment and her role as liaison for individuals with Asperger’s. And, I am confident that dinner with Michelle Obama would be a hoot — she’s got such an amazing attitude and sense of humor — and I truly appreciate her work advocating for girls.