By Tiffany Whitfield
Biological Sciences alumnus Anthony Le uses his expertise in both science and engineering as he exclusively teaches three medical and engineering classes not offered anywhere else in Virginia Beach public schools. As the department chair for career & technical education and technology teacher at Landstown High School Governor's S.T.E.M. Academy and biological sciences adjunct instructor at Tidewater Community College, Le uses both of his degrees from Old Dominion University to help nurture the minds of keen students interested in S.T.E.M. His non-traditional path of securing his Bachelor of Science in biological sciences and then a Master of Science in biomedical engineering degrees from ODU continues to help him discover new pathways to help students in the field of S.T.E.M.
As a Virginia Beach native and honors graduate from Kempsville High School he was offered a scholarship to attend ODU. His original dream was to pursue a pre-medical/pre-dental major with hopes of one day working in the medical field. Academically he kept pace with the rigorous courses, but his time was also being occupied back in Virginia Beach public schools. “I was involved with the local school systems as soon as I graduated high school since I was coaching volleyball and began substitute teaching on top of that during my junior year as an undergraduate at ODU,” said Le. As a full-time undergraduate, it was a fine line of balancing his academic schedule and his work schedule. “There were days where I had morning classes, and I couldn't work; but there were days where I took evening classes and then I would fill up my work schedule that way,” Le said. “I found myself filling up my schedule with work quite quickly and took a hiatus from ODU to save up money for my remaining credits.”
Because of his closely knit connections with ODU biology faculty, he knew he had to return to school to finish. “I had some great mentors in the College of Sciences faculty that still pushed me to pursue the medical and/or dental route,” said Le. Faculty like Biological Sciences Professor and former dean of College of Sciences Chris Platsoucas and Associate Professor emeritus Emilia Oleszak made ripple effect impacts on Le. However, after substitute teaching, it became clearer that he had pivoted away from a medical career and towards teaching which felt more like a sure serve for him.
“As I became more and more fascinated with mentoring students, the idea of long shifts and the resulting stress in medical settings became less attractive,” said Le. When he returned to ODU, he resumed his undergraduate studies in Biology then continued his studies at the master’s level in Biomedical Engineering and to obtain a full teaching licensure. “I discovered ODU’s biomedical engineering graduate program and decided that would take me full circle and intersect the science, engineering, and medical worlds,” said Le.
Upon graduation, Le took on several positions at Princess Anne High School. Eventually, he began teaching full-time at Landstown High School Governor's S.T.E.M. Academy and his career began to expand even more.
Le is the technology education teacher at Landstown and has been on that campus for nearly eight years. He exclusively teaches biotechnology foundations, biomedical engineering, and a “Project Lead the Way” introduction to engineering design course. “I'm the only one in the entire city of Virginia Beach that teaches those three courses,” said Le. Because of his subject matter expertise, his students can explore curriculum designed to peak their interests in technology and science. “I get to make it my own and do a lot of innovative and unique learning experiences and unique projects with the students,” said Le.
“For me, my path has always been nontraditional,” said Le. I came around to find where the intersection of science, engineering, and math falls together, and I love when my work comes together.” Working with students to help them make scientific and engineering discoveries in a well-supported classroom environment has been very meaningful to Le.
“I am a faithful proponent of nurturing everyone who is willing to try, to challenge uncertainty, and to fail, repeatedly, for that is how we ultimately succeed,” said Le. “That is ultimately what science instills- to be resiliently curious and stubborn, even.”
Recently, he has been awarded several grants that will allow him to have a Cultural Expo and a S.T.E.M. Carnival. This past spring, Le secured the first of its kind partnership with NASA. “We are the first and only school in all of Virginia Beach City public schools where students could potentially be the first in this area to design some products and some technologies for NASA astronauts,” said Le. According to Le, as of June 15, Landstown High School students finished first in the nation with the culinary competition and is working with NASA scientists to process the winning ethnic soup recipe for space in order to feed astronauts on the International Space Station; a team of biomedical students have also been moved forward by NASA to develop 3D printed medical instruments for spaceflight. His students at Landstown started doing research on this project this year and will have finished products will be ready in late 2023 or spring 2024 for submission.
At the STEM Carnival students get to design everything themselves from scratch and build projects from scratch with the focus primarily on biomechanics. The carnival itself is primarily run and led by biomedical engineering and biotechnology juniors and seniors at Landstown. “When they build their teams, they also involved underclassmen as well,” said Le. “And then we also outreach to elementary and middle schools (in Virginia Beach) so it's a community event.”
The other community event that Le has implemented at Landstown is the Cultural Expo where students had the opportunity to preserve food through fermentation. “They're learning about fermentation and different preservation methods while researching unique recipes from around the world,” said Le. “It’s like Epcot’s world countries where expo goers get to sample food and learn about various cultures, so students get to educate as well.”
Diversity is important to Le and plays a part in how he teaches these up-and-coming scientists and engineers. “Diversity entails not only acknowledging and respecting but embracing and celebrating differing perspectives,” said Le. “In science, I find it crucial to have input from lives full of varied experiences; we cannot definitively answer the currently unexplained without insight from all perspectives.” As a teacher he seizes opportunities to deepen the impact of diversity of thorough thought. “Teacher or not, I do not know enough, nor can I see every angle, but I would like to; my curiosity screams for such, even,” said Le.
As a resilient and curious person by nature, Le uses his special skillsets and interests to pique the curiosity of his students. The curriculum is designed for students with a keen interest in and talent for technology.
“I, along with my students, have had opportunities to really get out there and try new things,” said Le. “Asking me to try new things and to be able to try it with them is game-changing.” Le has had challenges and so has have his students, but he has learned that through different approaches is where his passion and excitement ignite. “Teaching and doing research reminds me of where I came from,” said Le. “I would never say that I know everything and I'm the authority on these particular courses or subjects, but it just kind of instills that I've worked my way to really build up my knowledge of this.”
For those interested in coming to ODU Le says: “I would say that a lot of times whether or not you have an end goal or where you want to go, you will get a solid foundation and discover many opportunities in science and engineering at ODU. Be proactive, probe and take advantage of experiences because a lot of people don't always recognize that there are undergraduate research opportunities. You don't have to wait until graduate school, right? Reach out if you want to make these connections. If you ask to be mentored, if you ask for people to teach you, they can really show you what there is out there. I think that's great.”
Le continues to challenge himself and his students in and outside of the classroom through various projects. “If I don t know something, I'm going to learn it and experiment so from the science side I get a little bit of feedback every day and that allows me to continue to be fluid and shape who I am,” said Le. He credits science as giving him the fortitude and resilience to be able to try different things. “If I may emphasize a takeaway, I am genuinely passionate about- everyone is capable of indulging their curiosity; scientific exploration needs you so we can gain explanations,” said Le.