If you had asked Mina Blazy if she aspired to be a teacher back while she was a student at Proviso East High School, she would have told you “no.”
But the fond memories of a 10th grade chemistry teacher at that high school continue to inspire her hands-on approach to teaching – teaching science especially — today.
“You’d go by his class and he’d be lighting something on fire,” she said. “We made candy from a chemical equation in his class. I had the most fun in that classroom. He made science come alive.”
When that teacher retired and learned that Blazy (B.S. Ed. Elementary Education ’99) was teaching, he sent her all of his lessons.
Earlier this year Blazy opened the Gus Franklin Jr. STEM Academy, in Victorville, Calif., where she is currently principal.
“The academy is a huge success,” she said of its launch. “We have students from kindergarten through sixth grade learning and exploring engineering concepts through project-based learning.”
Blazy’s passion for teaching and learning through science is infused into every aspect of the school. Her students are learning about flight in space in third grade, and how to use software in fifth and sixth grades, plus the elementary school has engineering and science labs. This year, the school will launch a new project where students will manipulate a radio telescope as part of the Goldstone Apple Valley Radio Telescope (GAVRT) Program. The project is a partnership between the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Lewis Center for Educational Research. In addition, they will look at space for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence. The data they study will be part of the Juno Project, which is named for a satellite that was launched towards Jupiter and will go live next summer.
“It’s another hands-on science project, where they will get to manipulate it from the school site,” she said.
Blazy’s path to becoming a classroom innovator didn’t happen overnight. After growing up in Broadview, Ill., she attended the University of Dubuque and learned to be a pilot.
“I flew planes for a while, got married, had kids, and just decided to go into education,” she said. “My husband was actually the one who pointed out to me that I had a natural ability to teach.”
Blazy’s mother – a registered nurse – and uncle had attended NIU, so she applied. A counselor told her that she should focus on teaching science or math, so she minored in biology.
After graduation, she taught high school science in the Chicago suburbs for a few years, before moving to Ohio and then California to continue her career. Soon, Blazy will begin pursuing her doctoral degree in STEM education.
“Science helps you think about your thinking,” she said. “That’s why I decided I wanted to focus on STEM.”
Throughout her career, Blazy said she has worked with and observed educators at all skill levels.
“What I have learned is that NIU gave me a true foundation in the education arena, and the necessary skills to help guide teachers to become extremely successful,” she said.