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Alumna named nation's top high school physics teacher

Alexandra Solender Boyd '12 was named the National PhysTEC Teacher of the Year for her work at Holly Springs High School in Holly Springs, N.C.

An Elon alumna has been named the top physics teacher in the country by the Physics Teacher Education Coalition for the impact she's had both inside and outside the classroom. 

Alexandra Solender Boyd '12 in her classroom at Holly Springs High School.

Alexandra Solender Boyd '12 was named the National PhysTEC Teacher of the Year for her work at Holly Springs High School, where she's increased the number of physics offerings, boosted the number of female students in physics classes and been a model inside the classroom. The top honor comes during her fifth year of teaching since graduating from Elon, and is accompanied by a classroom materials grant of $1,000. 

"It's a testament to how great the Elon Physics Department is and how supportive they are," says Boyd, who will also receive funding to attend two professional physics conferences focused on teaching and teacher preparation as part of the award. Boyd credited her instructors in the School of Education for helping prepare her to enter the classroom and succeed as an instructor. 

​Boyd hails from a family of teachers, and knew early on that she wanted to go into education. Her father, Evan Solender, is a middle school math teacher at The Hawbridge School in Saxapahaw, N.C., and serves on the Elon School of Education's Advisory Board. Her sister, Jessica Solender '14, who teaches sixth-grade math at Daniels Middle School in Raleigh, N.C. "With my dad being a teacher, I always felt that connection with my teachers," Boyd said. 

​It was a scheduling challenge in high school that first introduced her to physics. Despite plans for a career teaching math, she fell in love with physics after landing in a class because it was the only science course that fit with her schedule. "I had no intention of taking that class," Boyd said. 

Boyd carried her newfound love of physics to Elon, where she immersed herself in both the study of the field and in learning how to teach it in the classroom. Jeff Carpenter, associate professor of education and director of the Teaching Fellows program, said he's not surprised that Boyd has earned a top national recognition as a teacher, given the passion for teaching and understanding of students he saw from her while at Elon. "You could tell as an undergraduate that she got it — that teaching is not something you do, but it's an identity, it's a calling, it's who you are," Carpenter said. "She combines a passion for the content with a passion for the kids."

As a physics major at Elon, Boyd was an Elon College Fellow and conducted research with Professor Tony Crider on gauging how students learn the field of astronomy, which is a particular area of interest for Boyd. "Allie is a mentor to the next generation of physics students," Martin Kamela, associate professor of physics at Elon and chair of the department, wrote in his nomination of Boyd for the PhysTEC award. "Her love of physics and her enthusiasm for sharing it are obvious and infectious."

​At Holly Springs High School, Boyd has increased the number of physics course offerings from three to seven sections and increase enrollment in AP Physics classes, while pushing up female enrollment from 20 percent to 50 percent. She co-chairs the science department at Holly Springs and advises the Science Olympiad and the Science National Honor Society. Her stellar work earned her Teacher of the Year honors at the school last year

Outside her work in the classroom at Holly Springs, Boyd participated in an internship at the Statistical and Applied Mathematical Sciences Institute as a Kenan Fellow that focused on bringing industry and research into the classroom, and was selected to work at the software firm SAS to create new resources for physics classrooms through their Curriculum Pathways program. 

Expanding the offerings at Holly Springs has helped bring the field she loves to a broader range of students beyond those that are already interested in math or perhaps considering a career in medical fields, Boyd said. "I just really love high school physics," she said. "I guess it's my calling."

The mission of PhysTEC is to improve and promote the education of future physics teachers. PhysTEC is a partnership between the American Physical Society (APS) and the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT). Since 2001, PhysTEC has helped universities transform their physics teacher education programs into national models. The project is funded primarily by the National Science Foundation.

Owen Covington,
2/16/2017 11:30 AM