A STEM role model inspires young science minds

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - Emma Rose Dodson describes herself as a shy minority student, new to Huntsville High School.

The 11th grader is taking multiple AP classes and is very interested in pursuing a technology or science-based career after graduation.

Those fields are mostly male-dominated, which is why, according to Dodson, seeing her exceptional physics teacher Mrs. Conway in action has been so inspiring.

"So many teachers are like, 'I'm going to read this PowerPoint for 30 minutes' and expect us to retain the information," Dodson explained, describing Conway's teaching style. "She's like, 'OK, I'm going to touch this and we're gonna get shocked and I'll actually explain the science behind it.'"

Dodson shared what she called some of Conway's very best qualities in a nomination letter for our WHNT News 19 "Tools for Teachers" Award.

When we showed up recently at Huntsville High to name Conway a winner and present her $319 prize, Dodson got to share her feelings in person.

In front of her classmates, Dodson told Conway just how effective a teacher she really is, "You really make physics like, fun and engaging," Dodson said smiling, "You just make it kind of... interactive."

Conway told us afterward that it was her own teachers who inspired her current teaching style; one that, according to Dodson often includes live demonstrations showcasing scientific principals. Experiments will often involve props like balloons or mirrors, which help to illustrate the physics in action.

Conway said she's thrilled her approach is making an impact and happy to inspire the next generation of STEM students, especially young women, as they pursue a field in need of gender diversity.

Here is Dodson's full nomination letter, regarding her teacher:

"Mrs. Conway is a brilliant, uplifting teacher who makes learning Physics actually fun. She is a great encouragement to everyone, especially females, who want to go into STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering, Math) fields. She is personally engaged with all her students, and always strives to make learning engaging. So many teachers simply sit down and read you a powerpoint, telling you to take notes. Mrs. Conway, on the other hand, not only explains but also shows you science in action. As an example, for a demonstration of static electricity and the transfer of electrons, she blew up a balloon and rubbed it on her hair, and then showed how it stuck to the wall, explaining how this was possible. We used a concave mirror outside to (safely) set fire to a pile of kindling, while she explained the rays and points of focus involved in this. This allows the students an in-depth understanding of the material. She also is an upliftingly positive influence in a school that sorely needs it.

As a shy, new, minority student at this school, she went out of her way to make me feel comfortable, and make sure everyone is engaged. I am a Junior who is taking multiple AP classes, yet this class is, by far, the most interesting and understandable, which is no doubt thanks to Mrs. Conway. I am also a female who plans to go into technology and/or science-based field in the future. These fields are mostly male-dominated, and most people simply accept this. Mrs. Conway has been a huge encouragement to me, allowing me to see that women can find success in these fields.

Her constantly positive, genuine attitude lifts the spirits of all her students, most of whom are stressed-out upperclassmen, who desperately need a laugh and encouragement after going through tough classes. She has an ability to make one of the most difficult subjects easy and understandable. She also, unlike so many non-AP teachers, has a genuine passion for the subject – which you can clearly see in her enthusiasm to make sure all students truly understand the material.

She also has the amazing ability to create feeling of together-ness in the classroom. For example, my class is composed of many different “social groups”, with a groups of popular people, skaters, “nerds”, loners, and even two teens who are out-of-country exchange students. I have no idea how she does it – but she manages to unite us all, all of these social groups that would otherwise never interact.

She manages to dissolve these cliques and truly create an environment where everyone is free to ask questions, engage, and truly learn (which is an experience unfortunately rare in most public schools.) In conclusion, because of all I have said, and much, much more, I believe that Mrs. Conway truly deserves this reward."

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