Lighting up the lab

Seton chemistry teacher garners national award

By Connie Berry
SUN editor

BINGHAMTON — Who said science is boring? Surely not Diana Simpson’s students. lab

Simpson was honored this month with the American Chemistry Society’s Division of Chemical Education Northeast Region Award for Excellence. She is one of seven teachers nationwide to get this award.

The Seton Catholic Central High School chemistry teacher is one of those super-achiever teachers who spends her free time learning about new ways to present material to her classes. She attends conferences, chairs committees, keeps up to date on the latest technology and does, in her words, “whatever it takes” to share her enthusiasm about chemistry with her students.

Simpson has taught at Seton Catholic for more than 25 years. She began as a math teacher but after a few years switched to chemistry. Most of her students are 11th and 12th graders in regular and advanced placement courses. Simpson admits that her classes are not easy. In fact she tells students they just might be the most difficult courses they will tackle while in high school.

“I want to challenge my students,” Simpson said. “I want them to reach higher and to ask questions.”

For a little girl who came home from her first day of kindergarten announcing that she would be a teacher, Simpson has built a career that has brought her not only accolades but also real satisfaction.

“I’m enthusiastic about my subject,” she said. “If I find the same textbooks boring, I change them because if I’m bored, the kids must be bored. I don’t just lecture, I demonstrate.”

Fridays in her chemistry class typically offer a glimpse at what chemistry has to do with everyday life. Simpson might perform a flame test showing students what it is that makes all those beautiful colors in fireworks. She might light a candle, blow it out and then chew it up, waving good bye to her students as she chews. They may scratch their heads on the way out the door, but they leave her classes thinking.

Even though the subject matter is difficult, many of Simpson’s students have returned to Seton after graduating to thank her for being such a terrific educator.

“We really need to recognize teachers like Diana,” said Kathleen Dwyer, Seton Catholic principal. “An award is really an affirmation of what we do. If she needs something more to teach her class, she calls me on it. She is chairperson of our science department and I think this award will also encourage her fellow teachers.”

Simpson said she tries to find ways to incorporate other curricula into her chemistry classes. “For instance, Latin relates to words in chemistry and there is writing involved. Chemistry is the central science,” Simpson said.

Simpson’s activities include preparing students for the annual Science Olympiad and the Chemistry Olympiad. Her students consistently place in the top half of those schools participating. She is freshman class advisor and celebrates Mole [a large quantity measurement] Day with her students every Oct. 23. “We meet at a Denny’s for breakfast by 6:02 a.m. to celebrate,” Simpson said. She also acknowledges Halloween by wearing a wizard’s robe and conjuring up “potions” in chemistry class. A native of Texas if only for a short while, Simpson does things in a “big” way.

Simpson has been an active member of the American Chemistry Society [ACS] for years. In 2003, she was chair of the local Binghamton section. While serving on the board, she received an ACS Innovation Grant to recruit ACS members for the area high schools. She received both the ACS Distinguished Service Award and the Distinguished Teaching Award for the Binghamton Local Section of the ACS.

Her commitment to her students and to her subject is a real boost not only forSimpson but also for the Seton Catholic community.

“I’m delighted for her,” Dwyer said. “This is a huge award. In fact, one of our parents teaches at Binghamton University and he said to me recently, ‘You do realize this is a big deal.’ Yes, we realize it’s a very big deal.”

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