Local Teachers Spread Passion for STEM with SD2/Illumina Corporate Foundation STEM Educators Award
By Allison Harden
The 2022 SD2 and Illumina Corporate Foundation STEM Educator Awards have been awarded to local San Diego educators Hannah Nakamoto, a chemistry and physics teacher at Kearny High School, and Mario Patiño, a middle and high school science teacher at the Preuss School at UCSD. Both winners are thrilled to further inspire and empower their students with the award.
Hannah Nakamoto, Kearny High School
Hannah is very grateful for the award because it will allow her to take a much-needed break this summer.
“The award is significant for me because, I think it’s about 50% of teachers quit after their first five years of teaching due to burnout,” Hannah shares.
Currently in her sixth year, she’s noticed many colleagues leaving education or planning to leave due to burnout. She’s struggled with it herself. She’s worked an average of 3 to 6 weeks over the past 5 summers teaching summer school so she can make ends meet and pay her bills. Thanks to the award, she won’t have to this summer.
“I am really trying to find that balance between serving my students and taking care of myself,” she continues. “I myself am a resource, and if I burn out, that defeats the purpose of everything I want to do for my students.”
As a young female minority STEM teacher of Japanese-Hawaiian and Mexican heritage, Hannah is no stranger to the struggles her underrepresented students are facing, and she’s determined to continue to empower them on their journey.
Growing up, she didn’t have many people in her life encouraging her to pursue her interest in science. It wasn’t until her community college teachers showed her that science was something attainable, something she could do, that she believed a STEM career was possible. Because of their encouragement, she went on to major in Chemistry at UCSD and earn her master’s degree in education thereafter.
“Before then, I saw science and STEM education as something I wasn’t supposed to do because of the way I look,” Hannah reflects. “I’m non-white, I’m young, I’m short…I’m all the things you’re not supposed to be in a position of power.”
She hopes to lead by example to her students by showing them that if she can do it, so can they.
“I look like the people I’m serving and that’s why got into teaching STEM,” Hannah says.
In addition to better serving her students, Hannah is excited about building a stronger connection with Illumina through the award and bringing guest speakers to her classes to share about the many career paths available to them.
“I’m excited to become familiar with the folks at Illumina and what they’re doing because it aligns with what my students want to do in the future,” she says.
When she’s not in the classroom, Hannah keeps busy dancing hula and running the salsa club and knitting club at Kearney.
Mario Patiño, Preuss School
Mario has always been passionate about science. The child of immigrants, he was the first one in his family to attend college. However, his passion for science and STEM education began long before then.
“As a child, I always had an interest in science. My mother and the matriarchs of the family had a natural gift of practicing science from a cultural lens,” shares Mario.
“They inspired my passion for STEM early,” he remembers. “Doing science was not only part of daily chores or coursework in school, but it was also my source of entertainment. I used to make forts out of chaparral, chase rabbits in the canyon, and heal my wounds with medicinal plants. STEM has always fostered my creativity and curiosity to explore our world and beyond.”
A 20-year science education veteran, Mario currently teaches sixth-grade university prep science, seventh-grade advanced science, and twelfth-grade AP Environmental Science. However, by no means does he consider himself an ‘expert.’
“I have lived my entire career in the ‘learn-unlearn-relearn’ cycle,” Mario explains.
Part of this learning cycle meant going where life took him and exploring a new career path in Hawaii as a biology technician at a federal agency. Before that, he “was happy as a lab rat” working as a research associate at biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies developing novel molecular and therapeutic products.
The Hawaii role, however, is what sparked his passion for teaching.
“That job led me to an opportunity to teach science at a famous Hawaiian private school,” shares Mario.
“I developed my passion for sharing my love of science by cultivating learning environments which were culturally centered, arts-focused, and inspired by innovative engineering and design.”
Taking this passion into everything he does in the classroom today, Mario hopes to use the proceeds of the Illumina SD2 award to start the first Urban Agriculture Program at his school and stimulate STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and technology) learning through a biodiversity, sustainability, and food security lens.
In his free time, he enjoys mountain biking, long beach walks/hikes, and playing the to’ere drum.
About the award
The Illumina Foundation SD2 STEM Educators Award aims to provide financial support for underrepresented educators currently teaching junior high or high school STEM classes in the San Diego County region. We are looking to support innovative educators who want to invest in their students and create a lasting impact. Two winners are chosen each year and receive $5,000.
Allison Harden is a writer, editor, and passionate creative storyteller. A San Diego native, she has more than 15 years of professional writing experience.
A former professor at PLNU, she previously worked at Illumina and served as a long-time volunteer tutor at Reality Changers. She is passionate about helping students achieve their highest potential. She currently lives in Austin, TX. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.