Mark Paricio: Science and Education Define Boettcher Scholar’s Story

Mark Paricio: Science and Education Define Boettcher Scholar’s Story

For Mark Paricio, science is not about sitting in a lab developing theories – it’s about telling stories and active learning. Consequently, this 1980 Boettcher Scholar has a long list of spellbinding professional experiences.

From nuclear engineering at Rocky Flats to climate change research in Siberia, Mark amassed an eclectic collection of stories to share with the many students he had over the course of a long career as a high school physics teacher.

Mark came to appreciate the role of stories in science and education after listening to those of his own high school physics teacher, who worked on the Manhattan Project during World War II. This teacher spent one day a week simply recounting his experiences and the other four teaching course material. Mark’s desire to be a teacher was sparked by that formative course.

To become the most impactful teacher possible, Mark sought out guidance from his mentor and college professor, Bettie Willard. Willard suggested he work for at least a few years in “some controversial field” in order to build a stock of interesting life experiences to inform his teaching. Mark took his mentor’s advice and, after graduating from Colorado State University with a BS in chemical engineering, found one of the most controversial jobs he could: a nuclear and environmental engineer at Rocky Flats. Rocky Flats was integral to the United States’ nuclear weapons development effort, and at the time, all things nuclear were regarded with deep suspicion by the public.

Despite the inherent controversy of his position, Mark strove to make a positive impact. Many of his more experienced colleagues were complacent about their techniques of nuclear byproduct management, which were harmful to both the local environment and its steadily growing human population. Mark, on the other hand, used his knowledge of environmental science and chemical engineering to help develop safer processes for dealing with nuclear byproducts. After five years at Rocky Flats, though, Mark concluded, “It’s better to teach people not to make a mess than it is to clean up after them,” and decided it was time to pursue the career in education he’d always wanted.

Remembering the impact of mentors on his personal and professional development, as a teacher Mark connected his students with mentors of their own. He partnered with the ACE Mentor Program to foster relationships between high school students and people employed in the fields of architecture, construction, and engineering. This partnership led his students to make more informed choices about their collegiate studies, win numerous scholarships, and gain valuable experience.

Working as a teacher, Mark was able to spend his summers conducting research and consulting on various projects. One of the most notable of these projects was his work with a team of international scientists at the Polaris Project in Cherskiy, Siberia, which is frequently featured by National Geographic. When asked about the impact of this research, Mark explained that “People don’t believe data; they believe stories.” It was one thing to see climate change data published by other scientists, but it was another thing entirely to conduct fieldwork and see climate change for himself. He brought stories from Siberia home to his students and believes his proximity to the research helped his students realize its relevance. This experience almost certainly helped him be recognized in 2015 with a Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

Though Mark recently retired from his award-winning career in public education, he continues to reach young people through the Boettcher Alumni Ambassadors program. His work as an ambassador allows him to help high school students discover not only that they can make a difference in the world, but also that they can take tangible steps toward making that difference right now.

Beyond his work as an educator, Mark is part of what he calls a “Colorado poster family.” Their favorite ski area is Ski Cooper, and Mark and his wife have climbed all of Colorado’s fourteeners together. Notably, both of their children are also Boettcher Scholars. Though he travels as much as possible, Mark loves living in Colorado because it allows him to live his motto: “Science, like life, is not a spectator sport.”

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