Thank a Teacher Thursday: Mimi Shirasu-Hiza

I’ve written before about Mimi Shirasu-Hiza, she of the twice-demonstrated ability to see the seeds of discovery in what might easily be dismissed as messy data. How did this scientist, who is unraveling the ways that fruit flies’ ability to fight off infections is affected by such variables as the time of day and the state of their intestinal microbes, find her way to the laboratory bench? When I told Mimi about NCSE’s efforts to highlight the importance of high school teachers, she volunteered her own story.

Given that Mimi grew up in Hawai’i, maybe her path to biology led through nature? It wouldn’t surprise anyone if she had grown up watching birds, collecting butterflies, or developing a fascination with sharks. But that’s not how it went. Instead, she says “For most of high school, I wanted to be a literature major when I went to college.” It was her high school AP Physics teacher who set her on a different track. He “had a mission about getting girls to do science. I did well in his class and he asked me to apply to a summer research science program in DC at the NIH.” It was only Mimi’s second time off the island and she says she would never have applied without his encouragement. But “the NIH summer program was amazing and that was when I decided to pursue science.”

I really can’t do better than to finish Mimi’s story using her own words:

So yes, high school science teachers can make a huge difference!!!! He changed my life. We are still in touch; I visit him whenever I go back and he and his wife have visited me in New York, where I was able to give him a tour of my lab and reiterate to him how much he has influenced me.

Teachers in general and especially science teachers need support right now so good luck fighting the good fight!”

Do you have a story about a great teacher in your life? Send it to me at reid@ncse.com.