Mississauga teacher recognized as biotech curriculum pioneer, inspiring girls in STEM

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After 18 years working in the pharmaceutical industry, Euginia Nicoletti had an epiphany: She could take her real-world science skills and use them to educate and inspire young women. She is now a high school science teacher at Mississauga’s all-girls Holy Name of Mary College School. Today, she spends every day working to reinvent how girls are taught STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math.)

In the biology and chemistry classes she now teaches, she is turning old models of teaching on their head and preparing young women for university science coursework through hands-on labs that connect to real-world applications.

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This week, Nicoletti was recognized as a pioneer, the first teacher in Canada to introduce students to the Amgen Biotech Experience (ABE), real-world, hands-on biotechnology labs that can be implemented in local classrooms, helping transform students’ understanding of science.

For two weeks in December, at the critical time when her students are applying to universities, Nicoletti takes them through ABE’s advanced biotech techniques and experiments. The highpoint for her students is often the success of seeing a protein glow, after correctly isolating it from transformed bacteria via many detailed steps. “At first, my students are overwhelmed with all the complex steps, but when they get the glowing result, it is the evidence they need to show their work paid off.”

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Nicoletti is part of a team of teachers that carry out STEM activities at Holy Name, including innovative forensics and mini-medical programs and a competitive robotics team. The school had 78 per cent of its 2018 graduates pursue STEM at the post-secondary level – bucking the national rate in Canada. In 2014, 38 per cent of students pursuing bachelor’s degrees in STEM were women.