Real-world issues add intrigue to chemistry class


Jennifer Priest Mitchell

Alisha Maxwell (BA, SED ’16) said chemistry was one of her most challenging classes in high school, and she never would have guessed she’d end up loving the subject and even teaching it down the road. “I found chemistry so hard in high school. It was definitely one of my biggest obstacles, but I like a challenge, and I like working hard.” Eventually, she said, a great teacher helped her enjoy chemistry, see its importance and realize that it is all around us.

“Now I talk to my own students about chemistry in our lives, too. I used the Flint, Michigan water crisis earlier this year as a way to help them understand chemistry and its importance to our daily lives. That helped them understand how simply not adding a needed chemical when the water source was changed led to major issues.” She said her students gained an understanding of chemistry and will remember what they learned because it was a part of deep discussions and ongoing news.

Maxwell knew she wanted to work with teens after spending much of her own youth volunteering and then coaching them to swim. She believes swimming parallels academics in that students must push themselves, and everyone starts at a different point, but hard work and determination are simple keys to success. “I was the head swim coach at the Ahwatukee Foothills YMCA, and I loved working with all the kids, especially the older ones. I was at ASU with a major I really liked (biochemistry), and it made perfect sense to add the secondary education certification to my major, so I could teach and continue to work in an environment with kids.”

Maxwell will teach various chemistry classes to 9th through 12th grade students this fall at ASU Preparatory Academy and said she is excited to continue working with teenagers. “I love working with this age group. They are becoming independent, and they make a lot of mistakes. They often go to teachers or coaches for advice. It’s a great time in their lives, and you can really help them learn and grow.” In five years, she wants to be teaching, and she plans to earn a master’s degree at ASU in a technology field or in business. Learn more about Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College’s SED certificate program here.

Tales Out of School

A lightning-round interview that introduces you to members of the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College community.

What three things are always in your fridge?

Cheese, Taco Bell hot sauce and juice.

Coffee or tea:

Neither! I prefer water or Coke Zero.

Last movie you watched that made you cry:

I can’t remember ever crying in a movie.

Last book you read:

“Harry Potter.”  Again.

Teaching is the most important profession because …

You have a direct impact on the lives of students who are the future.

The teacher who most inspired you was …

Steve Reed, my eighth grade English teacher. I remember him having “conversations” with the class every day, and somehow we ended up learning, but it felt like we were just talking.

What are you most grateful for?

Days on the lake with my family. 

How did you choose your major?

My major is biochemistry, and I chose that because I love science and a challenge. I decided to add the teaching certificate because I was working as a swim coach through college and realized that I was already working in my dream job, which was working with kids and helping them learn new skills.

Who inspires you?

I am inspired by good teachers.

What’s your favorite mode of transportation, and why?

Boat, because that means I am on the lake.

What’s your go-to food?


ASU moment to remember:

Loved my analytical biochemistry lab. Best class.

Biggest change in classrooms from when you were a child to today:

Technology. Love having technology in the classroom.

If you could listen to only three songs for the rest of your life:

“Payphone” by Maroon 5; “Take a Bow” by Rihanna; and “No Sleep” by Wiz Khalifa.

Biggest accomplishment:

Watching my swimmers improve, graduating from ASU and getting a job.

Most adventurous thing you’ve ever done:

Lived in Argentina for three weeks.

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self:

Play more. Worry less.

Favorite movie quote:

“There will be a time where we must choose between what is easy and what is right.” –Albus Dumbledore in “Harry Potter.”

Pet peeve:

When people pick/bite at their nails (unclean things in general).

App you can’t live without: