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Bernice O'Brien

2013 Fellow
Bainbridge High School
Bainbridge Island, Washington

As an only child growing up on a small farm in the Shenandoah Valley, Bernice spent a lot of time exploring the great outdoors. She quickly realized that her passion lay in understanding the world around her using science. By the time she reached high school, she had decided on a career in environmental science. Bernice began to notice her love for teaching while working as a counselor at an outdoor summer camp. During her senior year in high school, she helped to start a teaching assistant/mentoring program for a freshman foundations English class—an effort which helped to solidify her interest in teaching.

Bernice studied secondary earth science through a five-year Bachelor of Arts/Master of Teaching program at the University of Virginia’s (UVA) Curry School of Education. While at UVA, she was an active member of the campus community. Her volunteer efforts have largely focused on her two passions: food and service. As an avid gardener, she was an advocate for urban agriculture and community gardens. Most notably, Bernice advocated for sustainable dining practices at UVA through composting and contributed to the completion of a food justice audit for her community.

In addition to her community organizing efforts, Bernice has participated in various education-based activities. She was selected by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to intern at the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory. While working at the Community Environmental Health Laboratory, she was given the chance to participate in authentic research and shape citizen science efforts. Additionally, Bernice was involved in an effort to design and implement a research methods class for ninth grade students at a new health and medical sciences high school academy. With an emphasis on hands-on inquiry, students were paired with a partner to study a sample organism for the entire semester.

She has leveraged the knowledge gained from these experiences and her student teaching in Belfast, Northern Ireland to better serve her current students. Bernice has taught a diverse range of sciences and currently teachers biology and chemistry at Bainbridge High School in Washington. As a teacher, Bernice hopes to “open students’ eyes to the natural wonders that surround them daily and reconnect them to the processes that sustain life.”


Students achieve when supported by a creative and diverse learning environment, so do teachers. Structured reflection and stipends for professional development will help me grow within my first years of teaching, as I create and refine my own teaching philosophy

Bernice O'Brien
2013 Fellow