Obama Names CSUN Alumna as Recipient of Top Teaching Award

  • CSUN alumna Erica Rood was selected as California's recipient for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

On Aug. 22, President Barack Obama named one teacher from the state of California as the science recipient for Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching — California State University, Northridge alumna Erica Rood.

“I was just overwhelmed,” said Rood M.A. ’15 (Elementary Curriculum and Instruction). “Just overwhelmed. … I was so excited to be receiving an award for something I’m very passionate about. It’s such an important thing to teach kids, and I was really ecstatic to be making news about science.”

Rood, who is also a part-time faculty member in CSUN’s Department of Mathematics, is a third-grade teacher at CHIME Institute’s Schwarzenegger Community School, a charter school in Woodland Hills.

What sets her apart from other teachers, said CHIME Executive Director Erin Studer, are the methods Rood uses to reach her students. Though she is a general education teacher, she has a strong passion for science and has combined her other passions — theater and dance — to help students get a better understanding and joy from the complicated subject.

“She’s a renaissance teacher in so many ways,” Studer said. “She uses all her talents in her lessons. I think that’s what makes her such a gifted teacher. She sees all the connections.”

The process for the presidential award began nearly three years ago when CSUN professor Wendy Murawski nominated Rood for the honor. (Rood had taught Murawski’s son.) Rood had to submit a 30-page paper explaining her background and a video of one of her lessons, with a written reflection of that lesson. In the video, Rood explained the difference between soil and dirt, and how plants use dirt and soil to survive. She dressed up in a lab coat with goggles and had her students incorporate poetry and art.

Rood, who has a bachelor’s degree in musical theater from UCLA, said this was a typical way that she reaches her students. Studer vouched for that.

“Erica has such a knowledge of how a well-run classroom should work, how to capture students’ attention, how to capture them with routines and songs,” Studer said. “It’s kind of a theatrical masterpiece how she orchestrates the running of a classroom, because it’s such a well-designed learning environment. Kids are ready and present to engage.”

Rood said CSUN helped her make an impact. She was part of the CSUN Elementary STEM Master’s Degree Program — a partnership with NASA and Teachers College at Columbia University, focused on science, technology, engineering and math education.

“CSUN is unique, in a sense that no one else was offering the program,” Rood said. “Just by offering the option, it found a pulse in my heart I felt strongly about.

“The faculty at CSUN have been so wonderful, to help me grow, to mentor me through the application and have been so supportive of increasing the professional development with graduates and faculty members,” she added. “All my teaching philosophies have come from [CSUN’s education] program. They’re good about sharing best practices in the classroom.”

Rood will receive the award in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 8. President Obama may even be present for the event.

At just 33, Rood is already a star in the classroom.

“I’m a girl with some ambition,” she said. “[And] teaching kids is my hobby. It excites me. It relaxes me. It’s my life. And I am a born teacher.”

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