Southern Utah University alumnus Aaron Kallas was recently named the 2013 Ron Mardigan Biotechnology Teaching Award from the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT).
Graduating from SUU in 2006 with his bachelors and then his master’s of education in 2008, Kallas has gone on to teach junior and senior high school biological science for the Anchorage and Chugiak school districts in Alaska where he has created numerous professional development programs, helping schools integrate biotechnology in their classrooms.
Through these efforts, he has been able to deliver an authentic science experience to numerous students in both urban communities and rural native villages in Alaska. It is these types of hands-on experiences that he first gained in the SUU classrooms that he is now delivering to his students.
“While I was at SUU I was able to get involved with research and projects, something that when trying to get my first teaching job helped immensely due to my understanding of real science,” stated Kallas. “I first learned about the need for biotechnology in a genetics class with Professor Helen Boswell and seeing that science in action resonated with me and was an experience I wanted to replicate with high school students.”
It is this “real science” that Kallas is able to deliver to his students Alaska through his creation of BioTaPP (Biotechnology Training and Preparatory Program). This program is given to high school students and has them partnering with area labs and the University of Alaska Fairbanks to have them learn fundamental biotechnology techniques and laboratory skills used in biological research.
Kallas stated that the purpose of BioTaPP is to “challenge students’ ability to think critically about contemporary ideas in the life sciences as well as peak their curiosity in designing their own experiments and conducting research.”
He went on to say that after getting his first experience with biotechnology and then realizing the state of public school education in the U.S. that he wanted to create a program that would not only train future scientists but also give them a leg up after they leave high school.
To this extent, Kallas said, “Nothing existed in the school districts where I taught that exposed students to the application of the foundations of science we expect them to know. BioTaPP changes that.”
John Taylor, assistant professor of biology at SUU and a professor of Kallas’, stated of the alumnus, “Great teachers are those who have never lost their love of learning. In other words, the best teachers are those who still view themselves as students. The only difference is that once you become a teacher, you become excited to take others along for the ride, showing them how to find that same joy in discovery and that’s what Aaron does.”
In a press release written by NABT, officials stated Kallas is a strong advocate for hands-on inquiry-based learning for many years and that he “involves his students in a variety of locally relevant, problem solving, biotechnology infused activities that provide contemporary perspectives in the biological sciences.”
The 2013 Ron Mardigan Biotechnology Teaching Award is not Kallas’ first accolade for his teaching efforts in biotechnology. His efforts to help students in research endeavors has led him to be awarded multiple local, state and national accolades, including the 2013 Outstanding Science Teacher at the Alaska Intel Science and Engineering Fair.
The Ron Mardigian Biotechnology Teaching Award, sponsored by Bio-Rad Laboratories, recognizes a teacher who demonstrates outstanding and creative teaching of biotechnology in the classroom and integration of biotechnology into the curriculum. The award includes recognition at the NABT Professional Development Conference and $1,500.