Sierra Carlson ’17 is a teacher at Novato High School who is still learning at Dominican.
While she continues to take classes to complete her Masters of Science in Education in the School of Liberal Arts and Education, Sierra is working on research with Dominican professor Dr. Randy Hall and collaborators from Louisiana State University about how environmental toxin precursors interact with metal oxide surfaces.
“It is really fantastic to have the experience to continue scientific research while working on an education degree. I call it my `passion project’ because it helps me feel fulfilled,” says Sierra, who is teaching high school physics. “I love to be academically challenged, and the research I'm doing with Dr. Hall satisfies my inquisitive side in a different way than teaching does.”
Initially, Sierra came to Dominican with a career goal to develop alternative fuels. However, an opportunity in 2013 to be a private tutor inspired her to want to become a chemistry teacher. She expanded her teaching interests two years ago after teaching physics at a private school in Novato.
“I taught conceptual physics at North Bay Christian Academy and it was a blast,” Sierra says. “When it came time for me to get my teaching credential so I could teach both public and private school, I decided to get certified to teach both chemistry and physics.”
Last year, when Sierra was a student-teacher at Novato High School, she connected with students and staff and enjoyed the experience. When an opening for a physics teacher presented itself this year, she jumped at the chance.
In the meantime, Sierra has been able to work on her research at Dominican remotely. She logs in on her laptop computer to different computers running calculations. During her senior year at Dominican in the School of Health and Natural Sciences, Sierra asked Dr. Hall, one of her chemistry professors, if she could be his research assistant before she entered graduate school.
“Teaching is my passion and I can't imagine doing anything else, but I also really enjoy doing computational chemistry research,” Sierra explains. “So far we have investigated how environmental toxin precursors interact with metal oxide surfaces. It has been a really fantastic experience working with chemists at LSU who are handling the wet lab chemistry. We've been comparing their findings with the results of our computer models. It gives both parties a better idea of how the atoms are interacting with each other on a microscopic level.”
Juggling computational research while taking master’s classes, and teaching physics and health has been fun for Sierra, and challenging. While she was president of the University’s chemistry honors society, Gamma Sigma Epsilon, and recipient of the DeLap - Holcomb Scholarship for outstanding achievement in chemistry at Dominican, Sierra was student teaching and tutoring high school students through a private tutoring company at the same time.
“My Dominican experience has been very positive,” Sierra says. “As an undergraduate, I developed a community of amazing, kind friends and mentors. The mentors I had as an undergraduate are still there for me. My experience in the education department hasn't been any different. My teachers have been very supportive and the students in the department are like a team.”