Imparting a Passion for Physics

Alumna Wins NYC Teaching Excellence Award

By Michelle Marasch Ouellette

In high school, Alia (Davis) Jackson ’04 swore she would never go into teaching. She saw it as a thankless profession.

But now, the SUNY Plattsburgh physics grad and former Peru Central School valedictorian is not only teaching, she’s receiving thanks in the form of an award for her efforts.

The Fund for the City of New York and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation are honoring her with the Sloan Award for Excellence in Teaching Science and Mathematics in New York City. The award recognizes “exemplary science and mathematics teachers who achieve superb results,” who are “leaders for academic excellence within their schools” and “inspire students to pursue careers in science and mathematics.”

Jackson teaches physics and earth science at Curtis High School in Staten Island. She is one of seven teachers to earn the honor this year.

How to Do Astronomy ‘Forever’

Screen cap of video interview with Alia Jackson.
Video: Alia Jackson talks about her love of teaching and the thrill of connecting to students.

Jackson said that her journey began at SUNY Plattsburgh, where she spent most of her time in Hudson Hall. She took an astronomy class with Professor of Physics Glenn Myer and became hooked.

“I went to him and said, ‘How do I do this forever?’" she said. “And he told me to major in physics.

“I loved it,” she said. “I loved the faculty there. The physics department is small. … The people were warm and welcoming and so willing to be there for you, and I formed relationships with faculty that I still have to this day.”

She even invited several of them to her 2010 wedding.

Discovering a Love of Teaching

Jackson was working as a teaching assistant in the physics department, when she discovered — quite by accident — that she loved teaching and that her students responded well to how she explained things.

“So when it came time for me to figure out what I wanted to do, I didn’t go into research,” she said. Instead, she went on to get a degree in teaching from Stony Brook University.

“I love it because I love getting people excited about something that I think can scare a lot of people away,” she said. “People say, ‘Oh, you teach physics?’ and they shiver. I just want to say to them, ‘No, you just didn’t have the right teacher. It can be so much fun.’”

She spends summers staying current in the field, doing research with Columbia University, which, in turn, has enhanced her teaching. For instance, equipment acquired through that research has allowed her to start an astronomy club at her school.

“It is a great way to get city kids outside and looking up, which I think a lot of kids don’t do,” Jackson said.

Curtis High School Principal Aurelia Curtis credits Jackson with being the architect of the school’s physics curriculum.

“As a young teacher, she didn’t shy away and say that’s too much for me,” said Curtis in an online video, recorded as part of the awards program. “She took it on and did a very good job.”

In fact, Jackson’s done such a good job that the school has a pass rate of nearly 100 percent on the New York State Physics Regents Exam.

But, for all her hard work, Jackson wants others to know SUNY Plattsburgh’s role in her success.

“I wanted to give you guys a shout out,” she said. “When I won the award, it was awesome, but it all comes from somewhere, and I wanted to let you know that I give SUNY Plattsburgh credit for helping me get to where I am today.”

Contact Information

For more information, please contact:

Office of Alumni Relations
Room 113 Hawkins Hall
101 Broad Street
Plattsburgh, N.Y. 12901-2681

Phone: (518) 564-2090 or (800) 964-1889
FAX: (518) 564-2094
Email: alumni@plattsburgh.edu