How and Why Two PLTW Alumni Went Back to the Classroom

An empowering student experience and a shared love for helping others put Samantha Harris and Julie Jeszenszky on the path to pursuing their passions.

For both women – who attended different schools – their PLTW classes and teachers inspired them to go back to the classroom to provide students the same support and encouragement that they received not long ago.

Although their journeys to get there differed, their destination was the same: the PLTW classroom.

“Growing up, I always wanted to help people,” Samantha Harris said. “As a kid, I thought I would be a doctor.”

Harris attended the Biomedical Sciences Academy at Byron Nelson High School in Northwest Independent School District (NISD). She took PLTW’s Principles of Biomedical Science (PBS), Human Body Systems (HBS), and Medical Interventions (MI), gaining hands-on experience in the medical field.

In PLTW Biomedical Science, students are taking on real-world challenges – and they’re doing it before they even graduate from high school. Working with the same tools used by professionals in hospitals and labs, students engage in compelling, hands-on activities and work together to find solutions to problems.

Harris began mentoring her classmates and enjoyed supporting their learning. When she started college, her plan was to continue on the path to medical school, but she soon found the same joy supporting her peers in her college science courses.

“At first, I was the only kid in class to get an A on exams. I thought, ‘Wow, I understand this!’ so my friends started asking me for help,” she said. “I thought I loved the medical field, but I actually loved learning about it and sharing that with my peers.”

This mentoring turned into group study sessions during which Harris enjoyed learning the material herself so she could facilitate the learning for the group.

During her sophomore year of college, Harris went back to Trophy Club, Texas, to visit her old high school and catch up with Monica Valenta, her former PLTW Teacher. That’s when her career plan changed.

“After that conversation, I realized my passion was not to go on to be a doctor, but to inspire others and help people see their full potential, just as Monica helped me find my potential. So going into my junior year, I switched majors to pursue becoming a teacher.”

Just a week after graduating, Harris received the offer she was hoping for: to return to NISD and inspire students the same way her teachers – including PLTW teacher Monica Valenta – had inspired her.

More than 1,000 miles away in New Carlisle, Indiana, Julie Jeszenszky experienced a similar “aha” moment.

In 2007, Jeszenszky was a sophomore at New Prairie High School with dreams of becoming a pediatric physician, and Mrs. Tonya Aerts introduced a brand new program to the school: PLTW Biomedical Science.

“I remember sitting in her class throughout the next three years and genuinely being excited about the things that I was learning,” Jeszenszky said. “The material was fascinating to me, and Mrs. Aerts was such an inspiring teacher. Although the coursework was some of the most difficult, it was still the most fun.”

Jeszenszky went on to study biology/pre-med in college and found that she already had so many of the necessary lab skills that her peers had not yet been exposed to – all thanks to Mrs. Aerts and the PLTW Biomedical Science program.

After undergrad, she continued her educational journey, pursuing a master's degree in biology with a focus on health and human studies. As she wrapped up her master's degree, she started working as a medical scribe for ScribeAmerica at Lutheran Hospital in order to gain more clinical experience before medical school.

She ended up taking the position of Chief Scribe, which required recruiting, training, and teaching new scribes.

I soon discovered that my life goals and future career path were changing,” Jeszenszky said. “I found that my favorite aspect of my new job was teaching the mini ‘crash course’ in medicine to all of my new hires.”

Fast forward to today and Jeszenszky has just wrapped up her first year of teaching biology, health, and nutrition and wellness at New Prairie High School. This summer, she will be attending PLTW Core Training so she can teach Biomedical Innovation in the fall.

Likewise, Harris is completing PLTW Core Training so she can teach PLTW Gateway at Adams Middle School. She recently completed training for Medical Detectives, which is one of the classes she took as a student not long ago, and will complete training for Computer Science for Innovators and Makers later this summer.

“I noticed I’m doing exactly what the students will be doing,” Harris said about her Core Training experience. “I didn’t realize the teachers would go through such an accelerated course, so when I went through the training, so much of it was still fresh in my brain.”

Both Harris and Jeszenszky have found their calling with help from PLTW teachers who inspired them to pursue their passions. Now, they’re returning to the classroom in hopes of making the same impact on their own students.

“I hope that I am able to make an impact on my future students in the way that Mrs. Aerts has impacted and inspired me,” Jeszenszky said.

“I just want to make people smile,” Harris said. “I want to be a teacher ... and help kids through their dark spots while finding their passion at the same time. [NISD] is home. This is where I wanted to be.”

PLTW President and CEO Vince Bertram recently visited PLTW Core Training at the Frisco Independent School District Career and Technology Education Center and shared with Harris’ class how critically important teachers are to our communities and our nation.

“Something that we take extraordinary pride in is our PLTW Master Teachers and PLTW teachers,” Bertram said. “You can’t just have great curriculum, and I am proud to partner with some of our nation’s best educators to inspire our students.”

To stay up to date on all of Vince's travels and the latest in education and workforce development news, please follow @vincebertram on Twitter.