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College of Science and Mathematics

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Cal Poly Triple Grad Named Napa County 2012 Teacher of the Year

Michael Tyner

Thirty seconds in the classroom with Jennifer Castelazo (B.S., Microbiology, 1989; M.S., Agriculture, 1994; Single Subject Credential, Physical Sciences, 1994) make it clear why Napa County chose her as Teacher of the Year in 2012. Her enthusiasm for learning is infectious.

"I'm a lifelong learner, and I think that's the important part. You need to impart to your students the excitement of learning," Castelazo said.

Castelazo didn't plan on teaching. After earning her bachelor's degree, she worked for a biotechnology company but didn't find it as fulfilling as she'd hoped.

"It was interesting. It just wasn't very social. I felt I had a lot more to offer than sitting in a lab," Castelazo said.

She returned to San Luis Obispo with no particular plan in mind and enrolled in the master's in agriculture program at a friend's suggestion. Being back in the classroom inspired Castelazo to consider teaching. It offered a profession in which she could use all her skills — her interest in science as well as her outgoing nature. So at the same time she began the credential program in what was then the University Center for Teacher Education, now the School of Education.

Eighteen years later and now a chemistry teacher at Vintage High School in Napa, she remains passionate about education and about instilling a love of learning in her students. In a classroom of students with mixed income levels — 30% of her students qualify for free or reduced lunch — and varying amounts of science background, Castelazo has to get creative in order to make chemistry relevant to everyone.

"It's a challenge to make sure that you're reaching all students. All of them can learn. It's just the way you present information," Castelazo said. "You really have to tie it into who they are — how does science connect with what they do on a daily basis. Then they become more inquisitive. I try to beat them to the punch of why am I learning this."

Castelazo credits Cal Poly's Learn by Doing approach with having a profound effect on her teaching. "I wish they had a t-shirt that said Cal Poly Learn by Doing because I think that's one of the most important things Cal Poly has taught me — that you can draw from your experiences outside of the educational classroom and bring those into your teaching."

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