Full Interview with Elizabeth Conroy

JJ: Tell me a little about you.  What's your background?  What made you decide you wanted to teach? 

Conroy: I am a teacher at Lincoln-Way North High School District 210 in Frankfort, IL. I always enjoyed working with animals and really loved my Biology-based classes.  I spent a lot of time that first year in college helping friends in their science classes and found that I really enjoyed it.  It was very rewarding to help someone over an academic hurdle and see them succeed.  I love my job.  Every day every hour is different.  Not only do I get to teach and live my favorite subject every day, but I love the challenge of finding new ways to present that material to my students and hopefully develop an appreciation in them as well.  

JJ: How did you learn about the ENS program?  What attracted you to it?

Conroy: An email was sent to my department chair, and she forwarded it on to the teachers.  It is difficult to find a Masters program in science that fits a teacher’s schedule.  Environmental Science was an area I was interested in learning more about to supplement my Biology curriculum.  Additionally it was exciting to pilot a new program.  

JJ: How did you come up with your project, and what was the process like for getting it approved? 

Conroy: I knew that I wanted to have a research experience that was rewarding, realistic, and interesting to my students.  I was able to connect with the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago and work with their teacher emersion program in the Bahamas.  Initially my program directors at Bradley had to evaluate whether Shedd’s program was rigorous enough to provide us with the level of research experience that they expected.  Once we got the approval for the trip my partner and I had to develop a question that we could answer with the research limitations we were facing.  We were only there for six days, we would be in many different locations, there were restrictions on collecting organisms, shipping was expensive, and we were living on a boat.  There wasn’t current or previous research we could build off of.  Many of our colleagues had an incredible opportunity to work directly with a scientist in the lab on current research.  We had to build our project from the ground up, from start to finish.  It really gave me a true glimpse of the overall process.  We actually had to revise our question and procedures a few times as we learned more about the area and other limitations we might encounter in the field.   

JJ: What has been your biggest challenge so far as a student?

Conroy: The balancing act for sure.  I try to put 100% in both my job and my studies.  Sometimes it doesn’t seem like there are enough hours in the day.  Since Peoria is 2 ½ hours away from home that adds an extra piece to the puzzle.  My friends and family have been extremely supportive.  And although the classes have been challenging I have learned so much that I can take back to my classroom.

JJ: What has been your biggest challenge so far as a professional in your field?

Conroy: Overall, trying to keep the students interested and engaged in science in addition to fulfilling state requirements and best teaching practices.  The balance can be difficult and frustrating.  The ENS program has provided me with some new skills and content that I can use directly in my teaching that have helped that balance.

JJ: What was it like to be able to go and work in the Bahamas?  Any tourist tips for future visitors, or advice you would like to pass along?

Conroy: The experience was amazing.  It really gave me ammunition to be able to tell my students first hand that science doesn’t have to be boring, that it is not always sitting at a lab table, following directions, and getting an answer.  It can be adventurous and open doors to new opportunities and experiences.  I never thought that I would be able to experience nature that way, with people that are truly knowledgeable and invested in their research.  

JJ: Do you have any words of wisdom for future ENS cohorts who might come after you?

Conroy: Stick with it!  It is a challenging program, but the opportunities that come with it can be amazing!

JJ: It sounds like you've got a great year ahead of you, what would you like to see happen over the course of this year?

Conroy: I feel like we are getting to a point in the program where it all comes together.  While the program has been rewarding, it will be very satisfying to finish it up!