Engineering Life Transitions

1 Jun

David Giacherio was at the peak of a productive career as a research chemist with Eastman Kodak when an idea that had been in the back of his mind for years bubbled to the top.

He wanted to become a high school chemistry teacher. But not just any chemistry teacher. Giacherio focused on becoming the kind of teacher who had shaped his own world.

“I grew up really poor in a small town in Illinois,” he said. “I was a bright kid, but expectations were really low. Then I went to high school in the next town over. A couple of teachers there literally turned my life around. They made me realize there’s a big world other than the town I grew up in — and there’s also a big world inside my mind. They started me on a path that led to a satisfying life.”

After earning a PhD in chemistry from Purdue, Giacherio took a job at Kodak, where he spent over 25 years. While he was in charge of a group of 30 to 50 researchers, he also discovered he loved teaching, whether in internal scientific seminars or leading a chemistry course at Rochester Institute of Technology’s division of continuing education.

The Nazareth Solution

When his lab was outsourced abroad, Giacherio, 60, thought about what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. Teaching soon came to the forefront. And Nazareth quickly followed.

“When I talked to Nazareth, everything clicked,” he said. “I liked the people and I liked what I knew about their general philosophy of education. It’s more hands-on and experiential, with a strong component of values and social justice.”

Giacherio, who is in Nazareth’s ACCESS program (Adolescence Certification for Career Change Emphasizing Secondary Schools), was chosen for a prestigious Robert Noyce Scholarship. Funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, the Noyce program supports the College’s commitment to increase the number of effective math and science teachers in high-need schools.

Making Chemistry Cool

On his way to his receiving teacher certification in December 2010, Giacherio has observed in Rochester city schools and worked with an experienced teacher in a special-needs junior high classroom. “Most of the kids there are really good kids who are suffering disabilities often compounded by difficult family situations,” he said.

Giacherio leads students to higher aspirations as he transmits his enthusiasm for discovery to the scientists of tomorrow. “I have this hard-core hacky chemistry knowledge and experience, combined with, I’m told, the ability to make science understandable — and relate it to kids’ lives.”

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