Through Alumni Feedback, St. Margaret’s Science Teachers Strive to Best Prepare Next Generation of Students

Upper School science teachers check in with Tartan alumni studying science-related disciplines at the college level to get feedback on their experiences. 
On a January afternoon in St. Margaret’s Upper School, a science classroom was reconfigured to look a little like a board room. Tables were arranged in a large square, half occupied by Upper School science teachers, the other half by Tartan alumni who had a lot to share. 
It’s always rewarding to see former students who are thriving at the college level, but this alumni forum was more than just a chance to reconnect. It was an important outreach by science teachers who are eager to check in with Tartan alumni studying STEM disciplines at the college level to get feedback on their experiences. 
In the classroom that day were Tartan alumni majoring in engineering (Alec Ohanesian ’20 at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, Charles Whiting ’22 at Purdue), biology (Emma Bernstein ’22 at Emory University, Sebastien Chicas ’22 at Virginia Military Institute, Amelia Kang ’22 at Trinity College), neuroscience (Julia Olosky ’22 at Northeastern University, Owen Young ’20 at Notre Dame), biochemistry (Liesel Blau ‘23 at Swarthmore College), environmental science (Nick Whiting ’20 at the University of California-Berkeley) and kinesiology (Sasha Kuljis ’22 at Westmont College). All of them took many science classes during their time in the Upper School, and all have a fresh perspective of how prepared they were for college after graduating from St. Margaret’s. 
Science teachers at St. Margaret’s were eager to hear those reflections. 
“The science department is always excited to listen to the successes and suggestions of our recent alumni,” St. Margaret’s science department chair Edmund Herlihy said. “Their feedback is so important as we strive to better prepare the next generation of science majors.”
The feedback of alumni has made a noticeable impact on the science curriculum at St. Margaret’s. A past meeting with alumni led to the development of honors research methods in science in 2017. The course, taught by Dr. Jennifer Ross-Viola, is designed to give students the experience of scientific research while still in high school and prepare them to take a college-level life science lab course after their time at St. Margaret’s. 
“Honors research methods in science is the most direct connection between student feedback and curriculum adjustments we’ve had,” Mr. Herlihy said. “Through that class, we replicate many of the wet-lab techniques typically seen in a first-year college major.”
While the January alumni outreach took place at St. Margaret’s with many college students home for winter break, the Upper School science teachers have traveled to visit alumni in past meetups. During an in-service day last March, the science department traveled to Los Angeles to meet with alumni studying STEM fields at the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles. The department also visited alumni at the University of California, Irvine in the past. 
Alumni have also helped by sharing undergraduate lab reports to St. Margaret’s teachers. Science teachers have reviewed those reports to note the structure, analysis and formats that are common for students at the university level. Through that insight, St. Margaret’s science teachers adjusted their own formal lab process to reflect these expectations more accurately. 
Through the course of the hourlong feedback forum with the 10 alumni in January, no stone was left unturned. St. Margaret’s science teachers took diligent notes, reflected on the conversation and left the roundtable with ideas on how to better prepare future students interested in pursuing a career in biology, engineering, chemistry, neurosciences and more.  
“We ask questions across a wide range of topics including content preparation, presentation and public speaking expectations in college, research and data analysis readiness, lab and technology expectations, and even how their transition to a diverse college community went,” Mr. Herlihy said. “We are thankful for the feedback our alumni provide. They have a unique perspective on how their St. Margaret’s education prepared them to study the sciences in college. By sharing that perspective with us, they are helping future Tartans who are interested in following a similar path.” 
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