A “failed” writer who wanted to study science instead of going into teaching as per her mother’s advice, Rebecca Isseroff, a chemistry teacher at Lawrence High School, found a way to combine her initial collegiate interests.
“I got a B in freshman composition and an A in freshmen chemistry,” Isseroff said. “The teacher didn’t like my writing, so I had to choose and made the decision [to major in chemistry at Brooklyn College].”
Isseroff, whose interest in chemistry was spurred by an entertaining high school teacher she had for the subject at the former Hebrew Institute of Long Island in Far Rockaway and a 99 on the chem Regents, also serves as the Lawrence school district’s science competitions coordinator, overseeing student projects for the prestigious Intel and Siemens competitions, along with the Long Island Science and Engineering Fair and other science contests. She helps with their laboratory work in conjunction with Dr. Miriam Rafailovich at Stony Brook’s Garcia Research Center, assists the students in writing their presentation papers, which are up to 20 pages in length and at times require 40 revisions, and shows them how to present their work.
“I love to sit back and see at the end of the research how students can present their work as a new expert in the field and converse with experts in the field,” she said.
A research scientist who took a 16-year hiatus from her professional life to raise a family, Isseroff was pushed into teaching by her husband, Zevi, who registered her for graduate school at Adelphi University. She began teaching in 1994 and has taught at Stella K. Abraham (SKA) High School for Girls in Hewlett Bay Park, Rambam Mesivta in Lawrence and for the past nine years at Lawrence High School.
At SKA, Isseroff was approached by the principal to get the students involved in science research. First shot out of the box, Shira Billet and Dora Sosnowik won the $100,000 team grand prize in the 2001-02 Siemens competition. “Beginner’s luck,” Isseroff called it.
But her track record speaks for itself. She has guided students from SKA, the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway in Cedarhurst, Rambam Mesivta and Lawrence High School to finalist and semifinalist status in the Intel and Siemens competitions. In 2010, Paul Masih Das of Lawrence High was a Siemens semifinalist for a second consecutive year and an Intel finalist. In 2013, three Intel semifinalists and in 2011 and ’10 five Siemens semifinalists. At this year’s International Sustainable World (Engineering, Energy & Environment) Project Olympiad there were four gold medal winners and four students were finalists at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. “She is one of the best teachers you hope to find,” Rafailovich said. “She has the unique ability to put the kids together to produce really unique work.”
Interested in bio-medical science, Lawrence High senior Krishna Raghubeer took Advanced Placement chemistry with Isseroff last school year and conducted research at Stony Brook this summer. Her Siemen’s project was submitted on the Sept. 30 deadline. “I learned so much,” Raghubeer said about her project. “It broadened my horizons and I realized I do like engineering.”
What the students learn from putting a project together and competing is more important than winning to Isseroff. “They are all winners as this gives them the opportunity to do graduate-level research as a high school student,” she said. “I am focused on how much they learned and how much they accomplished. This is to encourage our teenagers to pursue science and fields of science. Competition achieves that goal.”