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Meet Hillary, a science teacher working at Roche

As a high school chemistry teacher, Hillary Ward connects with her students through cool lab experiments, corny science jokes and energy that could light up a small city.

She also connects with them as a chemist who spent her last three summers at Roche Tissue Diagnostics in Tucson, where she worked as part of a team to improve a chemical agent used globally in the diagnosis of cancer.

My students think it’s really cool that I am actually a chemist. When I tell them this could be their job in the future, they all perk up. ‘Oh, I could do that for a living? That would be neat. I thought scientists just stood in the lab all day.’

As part of the Teachers in Industry program through the University of Arizona College of Education, Hillary, a Roche intern, helped to reformulate a chemical solution widely used in tissue diagnostics to make it environmentally friendly.

Hillary will receive a Master of Arts in Teaching with a focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). She and other math and science teachers work toward their degrees or professional development credit while teaching full time. During summer breaks, teachers get real-world work experience in STEM fields, earning industry wages that help cover the cost of tuition.

Improving teacher retention

Teachers in Industry, in partnership with Tucson Values Teachers, works to enhance K-12 education in Arizona and improve teacher retention, which is at the heart of the teacher workforce crisis.

Hillary, who is one of several teachers to take part in the Teachers In Industry program at Roche Tissue Diagnostics, said it allows her to take her on-the-job experiences back to her students.

“We can tell the kids in our classrooms what it is like to actually use our content,” said Hillary, who received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 2013 and teaches chemistry to 11th and 12th graders at Empire High School. She also heads up her school’s popular chemistry club.“My students now see me as a legitimate scientist.

The fact that I am working at Roche Tissue Diagnostics during the summers while they are my students is pretty incredible.

Heidi Barnett, who oversees the development of assay reagents and related technologies at Roche Tissue Diagnostics, has been Hillary’s supervisor for three summers.

'Most valuable part of my program'

“Hillary came in on the ground floor of this project,” Heidi recalled. The charge for the team? Develop a non-toxic product that would perform to the current standard of excellence that laboratories are accustomed to, producing clear tissue stains that are easy to interpret by pathologists for the right diagnosis and treatment.

Hillary wrapped up her summer work at Roche compiling product stability data required by health authorities.

“This fellowship has been the most valuable part of my program,” Hillary said. “It has been so great in terms of learning about experimental design and product development but it’s also been really nice to dig deep into a project. I feel like I have been of use to the company. My team makes me feel like I am very valuable.”

Through her experiences at Roche, Hillary is inspiring students to become scientists. “It reminds me of all the reasons I love teaching. Teaching truly is my passion, and if I can inspire students to work in STEM at all levels of education, from high school up to PhD, then I have done my job.”

Heidi, who has been involved with Teachers in Industry for four years, said the program benefits educators, students and industries.

It’s something that we absolutely do to give back to the community, and hopefully we will see the people who come through Hillary’s classroom here as our employees some day

“I see Hillary as the vehicle to reach students to let them know this is a possible career for them. There is this great company in Tucson that does something very meaningful, and they can, too. She is planting seeds in her classroom and her school that may grow into the next generation of professionals at Roche Tissue Diagnostics.”

Tags: USA, Career Blog