Educator spotlight: Q&A with Emilia Odife, 2017 Grosvenor Teacher Fellow

Each year, National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions select a group of highly respected educators from the United States and Canada as Grosvenor Teacher Fellows in recognition of their commitment to geographic education. As the 12th group of National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellows prepare to embark on their expeditions, 2017 Grosvenor Teacher Fellow Emilia Odifereflects on her experience with the program.

Emilia is a high school biology and anatomy teacher at Gulliver Preparatory School in Miami, Florida, where she also serves as a project adviser for the school’s Field Studies Program, focusing on coral ecology and restoration. Read the Q&A below to find out how the Grosvenor Teacher Fellows program enhanced her knowledge with hands-on, field-based experiences and how it changed her classroom.

Why did you decide to become a teacher?

Education was not my first career choice. When I was in high school, I wanted to be a marine biologist; in college I broadened my interest to biology with a focus in genetics; but then, I decided to focus on business and obtained a Master’s in Healthcare Administration.

I worked as a special projects manager for an oncology clinic in Memphis, Tennessee, for more than five years. While I enjoyed my work, my favorite assignments included being a medical interpreter for Hispanic patients and training new staff in the use of the electronic medical system. My boss at the time told me that I should have been a teacher. When I moved to Corning, New York, I decided to go back to school to become a teacher and have never looked back. I even turned down an offer of a position at my old clinic because I knew then that my heart is in the classroom. In hindsight, my interest in education was always there. My mother is a teacher, and I vividly remember helping her decorate her classroom and, as I grew older, helping her develop some lesson plans in science that were hands-on and fun. I treasure those memories.

Who were the people who inspired you to develop an “explorer mindset”?

I remember reading National Geographic magazine in the library and reading about Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and (my favorite) Jacques Cousteau. But, according to my parents, I always had the “adventure” bug and an innate curiosity that required encyclopedias and spending time outdoors or working with animals. My dad encouraged the outdoors and mom encouraged me to learn.

Perhaps the best example of my “explorer mindset” is the fact that I spent a year convincing my parents that I did NOT want a “quinceañera” dance (a big deal for Latino families), but, rather, I wanted to learn to scuba dive. So finally they gave in and, by the time I turned 17, I had obtained my Rescue Diver Certification. I am grateful for my parents who listened to me and encouraged me to pursue my passions.

How did you react when you found out you were chosen to be a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow?

Let’s just say that my kids came running downstairs because of my screams. I remember checking my phone again to make sure I had not dreamt it. I then told my kids and my parents (and my sister, and my brother, and my boyfriend). I was super excited and I admit a little scared thinking that they had made a mistake and I was not actually selected.

When I was notified that I had been chosen as a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow, I remember thinking, “Please tell me I am going to the Galápagos”—which was promptly confirmed, and another round of screaming ensued. The main reason is that I have been infatuated with the Galápagos Islands ever since studying evolution. The Galápagos was the mythological land of my dreams and now it was a reality. The Grosvenor Teacher Fellow program involves interaction before, during, and after a Fellow’s expedition.

How did you start preparing resources before you left?

Well, I brushed up on my flora and fauna, reviewed documents from “On the Origin of Species,” and studied the ecological aspects of the islands. However, I kept on telling myself to keep an open mind and welcome the experience regardless of where it took me.

Connecting with the other Fellows and naturalists before traveling was invaluable. We were able to gather other ideas, keep everyone informed of what was going on, and offer support and encouragement.

How have you applied your Grosvenor Teacher Fellow-acquired knowledge, skills, and abilities to your classroom practice?

I have been in communication with various Fellows and have even conducted Skype sessions between our classes.

I use Google tools quite often, most recently Google My Maps. With this app, students created maps of their “oral history” and then compared it with their genetic history based on DNA analysis. This particular project was possible thanks to an Educator Grant from National Geographic.

Furthermore, incorporation of photos/videos has helped create meaningful lessons that stress storytelling and give students authorship of their learning.

What would you recommend to this year’s class of Grosvenor Teacher Fellows as they prepare for their expeditions?

Do NOT work in a vacuum. The goal is to provide our students with an amazing education and foster the next generation of explorers. So go ahead and talk to the other Fellows and exchange ideas.Learn how to use your camera—pictures, pictures, pictures.Practice journaling if you haven’t done that in a while. Make sure you take time off during your expedition to jot down your experience. The more sensory driven, the better. How cold was the water (not just numbers)? What did you smell? What did you see? How did you feel after the morning hike?

Visit all areas of the ship that allow guests, and talk to the crew and other travelers. While we want to bring all the knowledge/experience back to our students, remember to take time to soak it in. It will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience you don’t want to miss.You do not have to be perfect—neither do your pictures/videos.

Anything else you’d like to share about the Grosvenor Teacher Fellow program?

I thought that going to the Galápagos would be the highlight, when, in reality, it was just the beginning. The friendships and partnerships that I’ve fostered with my Fellows are what I value most. I have asked and received advice for some of my classes, been able to share my passion for coral reef conservation, celebrate successes and birthdays, and receive pep talks when needed. Also, the program has increased my confidence as a teacher while rekindling my desire to continue exploring and learning.

Know an educator who would make a great Grosvenor Teacher Fellow? More information about the Grosvenor Teacher Fellow program is available here.


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