Science Woman, Elisabeth Alperin

It has been apparent to the students and teachers of Orcas High School since the first week of school that a new teacher has joined the ranks. Elisabeth Alperin was hired as a permanent science teacher to replace Kat Barnard, the long-term substitute of last year. Every student has seen her, most likely in the halls or in the teachers’ lip-sync. Many students already know her from taking one of her science classes, but few, if any, know where she has come from and why.

Alperin grew up between New York City and Los Angeles, attending high school in Nyack, New York. She loved science from a young age, but lost interest in sixth grade, only to fall in love with science once again when taking a biology course in college.

Alperin was an undergraduate at Bennington College of Bennington, Vermont. There she earned a degree in Natural Sciences and Mathematics before leaving for University of California for graduate school, where she majored in Biological Chemistry and published papers.

Before teaching, Alperin worked with molecular biology. Between college and graduate school, she worked for Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, working in a lab with human genetics and identifying cancer cells on a DNA level. She then switched to working for a small company in California that was trying to develop pesticides genetically. “It didn’t work,” said Alperin, laughing.

Cooking up some science / Photographer: Axel Greening

After graduate school, Alperin continued her career in molecular biology by working again with human genetics, also working for the USDA, where she worked with plants. It wasn’t until she was taking some time off and volunteering for schools that she realized that while she loved science, she missed being in the classroom. With this desire to combine science and teaching, she returned to school to earn her teaching credential at Western Oregon University. Since entering the world of teaching, Alperin has only taught at Douglas McKay High School in Salem, Oregon, and now at Orcas Island High School.

When comparing her past career with teaching, Alperin found that she likes teaching equally to being a molecular biologist. “In my mind, there are similarities. What I loved about science in general was that I was always trying to solve a problem, and everyday was different. With teaching, I’m finding it much the same. I have a topic, and I have to figure out how to help students learn it,” said Alperin. She finds that it is the same challenge. In both careers it sometimes works, and sometimes doesn’t. This year, Alperin is teaching a total of four classes: Biology, AP Biology, Chemistry, and Environmental Science.

When asked what she enjoys about teaching on Orcas, she explains that she likes having the flexibility to teach in different ways. She also enjoys teaching several different classes, instead of teaching lots of different sections of the same class. About the school in general, she said that she likes the social climate. “All the students seem willing to learn, and everyone is nice to each other. This makes a huge difference.”

Alperin has hopes for what she will instill in her students. She hopes that they will develop different ways of looking at things in their lives, such as having the ability to analyze things, and the ability to question what they read or hear. “I would love if everyone fell in love with science,” said Alperin.

The new ideas and knowledge that are already being brought by Alperin to OHS are a breath of fresh air, seeming to promise more years of quality education in science classes. Student Tara Dobos of Alperin’s Environmental Science class considers the class to be one of her most interesting science classes. “I’ve seen a lot of monkey videos,” she remarked. “Monkeys scare me, but it’s fine.”