Arizona College Prep teacher earns national kudos - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Arizona College Prep teacher earns national kudos

June 23rd, 2022 SanTan Sun News
Arizona College Prep teacher earns national kudos

By Ken Sain
Staff Writer

Arizona College Prep science teacher Rachna Nath’s students are looking for a way to stand apart on their college applications. Nearly all of them have top grades, play a musical instrument and are involved in numerous after-school activities.

The same for their competition.

What gives Nath’s students an edge is their teacher.

Nath was named one of TIME Magazine’s Innovative Teachers of the Year in 2022, earning earned the national award for helping her students literally change the world for the better.

In 2018, Nath was scrolling through the emails in her spam folder and came across one that offered a $10,000 grant for students working on a great idea. She started with only three students that first year. Their idea was how to extend Wi-Fi signals.

It was accepted by Massachusetts Institute of Technology officials as part of their Lemelson Program. Nath flew to the Boston area and attended a program learning how to take an idea and turn it into reality.

“When you go to a school, the students should be interested in more than getting an A and being involved in sports,” Nath said. “Now they’re out there establishing their own companies.”

Her students did not win the $10,000 grant that year. But they have earned more than $200,000 in grant funding since then.

And when they fill out their college applications, they can include applying for grants, winning grants, patent research, applying and getting a patent, and starting work on their product in an innovation incubator.

All of that looks great on a college application and helps her students stand out. The trio of students working on their own time in 2018 became a class of 30 this year at Arizona College Prep.

“If you provide food for thought to these young, creative minds, they are really, really critical thinkers,” Nath said.

One idea her students had was for heat sensors on a hat to warn the wearer when they may be close to fainting. That idea earned them a $50,000 grant from Arizona State University’s Healthy Urban Environments Initiative.

“We realized that this was a problem that we should solve,” says Sohani Sandhu, 18, another student who worked on the hat. “And it was something that a lot of people hadn’t really worked on solving either.”

ASU even set up a program at its Innovation Center in Chandler to help the students get started.

“They were forced to create a junior track for all these high school students,” Nath said.

Nath has also helped win grants for $1.2 million from the Department of Defense and $800,000 from the National Science Foundation to help middle school students start learning about bioscience and physics, respectively.

She said her main motivation is to teach her students to be critical thinkers and give them problem solving skills. She does not profit from any of their work. And, it is their work. They are the ones writing the grants, doing the patent research, applying for patents and forming their own companies.

“It’s something unique to help them separate themselves when applying to colleges,” Nath said.