Christine Sapio takes university experience to technological heights
As science continues to evolve, it’s only
natural that younger generations of students be educated on its inner workings,
even if it’s just for sport. At least, that’s how Christine Sapio handles it.
Sapio, who graduated from Northern Arizona
University in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in physical sciences and secondary
education, grew up in Prescott and chose the university because of its sense of
community and smaller class sizes.
Sapio says she chose physical sciences and
secondary education as a way to combine her two passions from high school.
“It was a roundabout way, actually,” Sapio says.
“I got really interested in science at a younger age, and I had done some counseling
through the Girl Scouts and teaching martial arts classes and stuff like
that. I just thought I could put the two
During her time at the university, Sapio
participated in a variety of extracurricular activities, including the fencing
club and serving as an Honors Ambassador, but the most valuable was her
hands-on student teaching.
She mentored under Coconino High School (CHS)
teacher Dave Thompson, who is now one of the Masters Teachers for the NAUTeach
program, as well as a coach for the CocoNuts.
Several NAUTeach and engineering students volunteer at CocoNuts events.
Following graduation, Sapio began teaching at
CHS as a science teacher, a job that she loves because it allows her to be
creative. She describes her teaching style as having a hands-on approach in
order to simplify complicated subject matter.
“I feel very passionately that kids need to
experience what it is they’re going to learn first before we start throwing
numbers on it,” Sapio says. “The more actively involved they can be with it,
the better they’re going to learn it.”
This applied approach carries over to Sapio’s
secondary duty as robotics coach for the CocoNuts, a team of students who build
robots for competitions. The CocoNuts were formed in 2007 after Sapio, at the
urging of Thompson, attended a robotics competition in Phoenix.
After seeing the atmosphere firsthand, Sapio
decided to work with her fellow faculty members to develop a robotics team of
their own. By the fall 2007 semester, Sapio received funding from the Science
Foundation Arizona to start a team and compete in For Inspiration and
Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) robotics competitions.
Since its inception, the CocoNuts have competed
in a variety of state and national events, including stops around Arizona,
Utah, and even Missouri. Most recently, the CocoNuts made it all the way to the
semi-finals and were awarded an Engineering Inspiration Award in Utah. They
went on to be seeded eleventh in their division (of 100 schools) and compete at
the national stage, an impressive feat for a small team from a small town.
The CocoNuts have also won the Chairman’s Award
from FIRST—a prize awarded on a regional and national level to teams that
exhibit dedication to teaching science throughout their communities—three out
of the four years they were eligible for it. Sapio herself was awarded Arizona FIRST Teacher of the Year at the Arizona Regional
in March for her leadership and motivation as robotics coach.
Because of their success, Sapio says the
CocoNuts have become one of the most influential robotics teams in northern
Arizona, and they hope to spread the word about the experiences of competing at
a national level.
“Our big mission is to get these opportunities
out to some of the areas that are underrepresented in the area,” she says.
“Some areas just don’t have the opportunities, but our success shows robotics
can thrive anywhere.”
If teaching full-time and coaching robotics
weren’t enough, Sapio also moonlights as a graduate student pursuing a degree
in science teaching at Northern Arizona University. By allowing students to
intern and acquire credit for student teaching in her classroom, Sapio herself received
six credits per student teacher. Now enrolled in the program, Sapio has been
working on her master’s thesis, which describes a curriculum of teaching
robotics for secondary education students.
Though she took five years off, Sapio says going
back to school was worth it considering the university’s prestigious programs
in both science and education. Despite her success, Sapio says she originally
had little idea as to what her future would hold coming into college; however,
the education program r paved the way for her future.
“I really didn’t know what I wanted to major in
when I went to [Northern Arizona University], but the education program turned
out to be great,” Sapio says. “Everyone was pretty influential as far as
teaching goes; it’s one of [the university’s] specialties.”