This week, I had the amazing opportunity to interview my freshman biology teacher—Ms. Stepanie Vosicka.
Question 1: Can you tell us a bit about yourself? Where did you grow up, and who were your role models as a kid?
My dad grew up in Australia and moved to the US when he was about 9 years old, while my mom is from the Czech Republic and moved to the US after marrying my dad. I was born and raised in the SF Bay-Area in California. I went to Heritage High School in Brentwood, CA, and afterward, to Colorado State University where I earned my B.S. in Biology. After college, I came back to California and earned my teaching credential online while working as a substitute teacher and swim coach at my old high school. Once I finished my teaching credential program, I applied to various schools and ended up at Foothill. Growing up, I was a year-round competitive swimmer for about 10 years, and I often looked up to older swimmers that were on my team. The person I looked up to the most was U.S. Masters open-water swimmer Suzanne Heim-Bowen (2007 US Masters Swimming Hall of Fame). Suzanne was always so charismatic in the water and had such a positive attitude about everything. Outside of swimming, I also really looked up to Adam Savage from the show Mythbusters. I was always interested in how the show would use actual science and experiments to prove if common myths were true or not. Adam Savage would always share his passion for making nerdy things on the show, and that is something I really enjoyed watching. His YouTube channel Adam Savage’s Tested is fun to watch because you can see how much he loves creating different things (from replica movie props and costumes to other obscure items).
Question 2: Have you always been a science lover? Or was it something that developed as you grew older?
I have always enjoyed science. It was never my easiest subject in high school, but I loved doing the hands-on labs. Physically seeing science in action helped me reinforce not just what I was learning but how practical the field is to real life.
Question 3: What is your favorite thing about science? Is there one particular branch of science you love more than the others?
Kind of piggybacking off of the last question, I love labs! When I was in college there were so many fun and interesting labs I got to do (from dissecting a squid to seeing how different concentrations of alcohol affect the developmental stages of zebrafish). It's hard to pick a favorite branch since most of them are so interconnected. But if I had to pick one, it would be between microbiology and biochemistry.
Question 4: What made you want to be a science teacher? And what is your favorite part about teaching science to the next generations?
For the longest time, I always thought that I would go into either the biotechnology research industry or the field of forensic science. I even started out as a Chemistry major but switched to Biology after my first year because the Biology classes I took were more interesting. But it wasn’t until my last semester of college that I learned I would be interested in teaching. After completing a summer internship at my college’s Biochemistry department, I realized that academic research wasn’t what I thought it would be. Spending the majority of days just working at a lab bench was not what I wanted to do for a living. When I was volunteering at my college’s ‘Little Shop of Physics’ program, I helped out with the annual Open House event. I would basically explain a range of physics phenomena to kids from elementary to middle school and their parents! I’ll be honest, I was pretty motivated to volunteer for this event since it was offered as an extra credit opportunity by my college Physics professor (since he was the organizer of the outreach program). But from this event, I really discovered how much I enjoyed teaching others about science. Seeing the student’s faces light up with joy and say “whoa that’s pretty cool” helped me solidify that teaching is a profession I wanted to look into. At this same time, I was also working for the college’s radio station as a training director. Basically, I would teach college students how to work for the live studio’s board and follow FCC rules (aka not to swear when live on air). I loved this job because of the different types of people that I got to meet and once again, the theme of teaching people different concepts was prevalent to the job. I really enjoy teaching high school Biology because one: I love the subject, and two: I enjoy taking the time to get to know students. If they can learn something along the way, that is always the goal, but it's really the different students you get to know that make teaching worthwhile and very self-fulfilling. Knowing that you made an impact on some students, whether they gained an interest in science or not, is what any science teacher aims for. For me, each school year is a new set of students with different strengths and weaknesses. I always look forward to getting to know students and figuring out how I can make Biology the most interesting and comprehensive subject I can.
Question 5: You mentioned that you’ve studied science in various places. That sounds like a dream come true! Could you describe some of the places you’ve been to?
I would really say that majoring in any science field in college really exposes you to many different experiences. I learned the most by taking advantage of as many different science classes as I could while still satisfying the list of classes to meet my degree’s requirements. From Human Hereditary Birth Defects to Animal Behavior and Conservation, I really tried to take classes that sounded the most interesting! Besides my coursework, there were two different settings that I had the opportunity to learn from in a hands-on setting, including my college’s Biochemistry research department, and the Physical science outreach program called “The Little Shop of Physics”.
Question 6: Studying science in different places must have taught you many different things. Do science and the study of it differ from place to place, or do people study pretty much the same stuff everywhere you’ve been?
From my experience, when it comes to the academic research setting, the actual research you do varies wildly, but the scientific practices and collaborating with peers is what stays the same. When I worked in my college’s biochemistry department lab, I focused on creating a fluorescent protein that could change color based on protein expression. While all of us were working on the same project, each person in the lab would be at different stages of inserting the fluorescent protein into a plasmid to testing it in various organisms' genetic sequences. Even when I would swap stories with my best friend, who was doing research in the Chemistry department, we both realized how similar academic research is, with the only difference being the type of research one is working on.
Question 7: On your adventures, you must’ve had many different experiences. Was there a particular lab you enjoyed working in? Why?
The only lab experience I have, besides the ones provided in college-level coursework, is when I interned over the summer for my college’s Biochemistry department. I was really excited to contribute to Dr. Stasevich’s research on how fluorescent protein expression can change color based on a cell’s protein expression. While my time in the lab was short, I am very thankful that I got to experience what an academic research setting is like. There was an article that came out last year (about how the lab I worked in recently collaborated with CU Boulder) that was interesting to read about! I’ll link it here: https://source.colostate.edu/cellular-stress-movies/
Question 8: There are many articles out there advertising false cures for COVID. Us teenagers aren’t always able to differentiate between the real and fake, but surely we could learn a thing or two from amazing teachers like yourself. What advice would you give our team and our readers about sifting through a world of information?
The phrase “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” isn’t as easy to relate to anymore since so many people repost anything without doing any research first. My best advice is to always check your sources! It can be pretty tempting to repost an Instagram post your best friend has in their story because you trust them, and they probably aren’t intending to repost something that is misleading, right? You also might not second guess something, especially if multiple people are reposting or agreeing to one post, right? But before you hit that repost button, read the original post. Then fact-check on the internet if those claims are backed by trustworthy sources and make logical sense. For example, many companies claim their mask is CDC approved. Instead of taking their word for it, go to the CDC website and read their page on their recommendations for masks (which includes links to actual scientific research where you can read more information and make your own conclusions). Some red flags I have noticed for misleading posts include strong language (words like ‘absolute’, ‘truth’, ‘fact’, ‘verified’), and stating claims/statistics without any sources or posting links to sources that actually say the exact opposite of what they claim.
Question 9: Final question. Our team here at The Science Behind is a dedicated group of science-loving teenagers. Is there any advice you would like to give us? Any feedback on our work?
1. Never stop learning and keep your mind open to different ideas! Even though you think you are dead set on majoring in one specific subject in college, always keep an open mind and heart because you never know if you may discover another subject you are just as passionate about.
2. Try not to stress (too much) about the future. People around you may act like they have their entire life planned out or know what they want to do for a living when they get older. The truth is, so many people change majors or careers during and after college/trade school and that is 100% okay! So try not to get too overwhelmed with pre-planning your future, and enjoy the present when you can. A quote that reminds me of this is: “The end is just the beginning of a whole new race.” I really like this because it says that even when you think you are done or have reached your goal, you will end up making or chasing a new one.
That's all for this article. See you next time!