Master’s alumna honored for AP teaching

March 15, 2010

Michelle Meredith Shearer M.S. ’96 knows that chemistry is everywhere, and believes that chemistry is for everybody. It is a philosophy that not only empowers her teaching – whether at the Maryland School for the Deaf or Urbana High School in Frederick County – but also helped earn her the Siemens Award for Advanced Placement Teaching for the state of Maryland and a nomination for Frederick County Teacher of the Year.

“I was both surprised and humbled at the same time. There are so many talented teachers. It is very exciting," said Shearer, whose husband, George, teaches physics at Urbana. The couple has a 4-year-old daughter, Carly.

The Siemens Foundation, according to its Web site, “helps nurture tomorrow’s scientists and engineers by supporting outstanding students today, and recognizing the teachers and schools that inspire their excellence.” The award comes with a $1,000 grant from Siemens to Urbana for science and math education, but the details of how Urbana will use the grant are not yet determined.

Valedictorian of her class at Brandywine High School in Delaware and a magna cum laude graduate of Princeton University, Shearer would no doubt have succeeded in anything she tried. But for as long as she can remember, she wanted to be a teacher. The question always was what, not if, she would teach.

For a while she thought she would major in math but then she enjoyed the lab and the hands-on aspects of chemistry. Besides, chemistry involved a lot of math, and her father, 1966 alumnus Philip Meredith, earned his Ph.D. in chemistry at Duke and was a DuPont chemist until his retirement several years ago. Shearer’s mother, Beverly Meredith, was an elementary music teacher until her retirement.

Shearer simply relishes teaching – whether she’s in a classroom at Urbana, where she taught from 1997-2002 and again since 2006 when her daughter was born, or signing in a classroom of enthusiastic Deaf and hard-of-hearing learners. Urbana is populated too with eager learners – 69 registered for her AP chemistry classes this year. In fact, James Lipchock ’04, who just earned his doctorate in chemistry at Yale, is one of her former students.

“You would be surprised at what students accomplish once they realize that chemistry is a part of their lives,” Shearer said.

Shearer, who is fluent in American Sign Language and earned a master’s in Deaf Education, doesn’t see hurdles. She only sees students.

Almost without exception, student doubt gives way to confidence and success when Shearer flicks the switch and the light flashes on, according to her colleagues.

“She’s quite adept at relating lesson content to the student’s experiences in order to personally involve them in the learning,” said Kathy Campagnoli, a 1982 McDaniel graduate and Urbana High School principal who raves about Shearer’s enthusiasm and innovation in the classroom. “I have experienced how she demonstrates that effective learning has to be equal parts challenge, relevance, applicability and fun.”