A biology professor at Tidewater Community College sparked Camilla Walck’s passion for science. Instead of pursuing a secretarial career, the Churchland High graduate decided she wanted to be a teacher.
Some 25 years later, she is one of the best in the business. The Princess Anne science teacher and department head, a TCC alumna, is one of 213 recipients of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. She received her award, which includes a $10,000 stipend from the National Science Foundation, at the White House on Sept. 8.
“The recipients of this award are integral to ensuring our students are equipped with critical thinking and problem-solving skills that are vital to our nation’s success,” said President Obama. “These excellent teachers are preparing students from all corners of the country with the science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills that keep us on the cutting edge.”
Walck earned her Associate of Science in Science from TCC prior to transferring to Old Dominion University, where she received her bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate.
TCC planted the seed for her ensuing education. “I realized science could be fun,” she said. “My love for science goes back to that professor at TCC.”
She appreciated the seamless transfer of her classes to ODU. “Financially you get a great education at TCC at a fraction of the cost,” she said. “I loved it there. You felt more like a person than a number.”
Walck’s hands-on science classes for students in Princess Anne’s international baccalaureate program are equally engaging. Worksheets bore her. Long lectures aren’t her style, either. Instead, Walck embraces learning that plays off her students’ interests.
For example, in teaching kidney function, each of her 12th grade students chose a project based on individual interests. A computer buff wrote a program on the kidney; another chose to sew a kidney. A budding actor wrote a play on the kidney; a student interested in mechanics built one that lights up.
“I take their interests and tie it to the curriculum,” Walck said. “I want my students to fall in love with science and the process of learning. I want to show them how science relates to life.”
She doesn’t mind being quirky to stress a point, either. At Halloween she dresses as Albert Einstein in the classroom.
Walck is also an advocate of service-based learning. When teaching the nervous system last year, students visited Alzheimer’s patients at a Virginia Beach nursing home. Two years ago, several of her students accompanied her on a trip to Costa Rica.
“We planted trees in the rainforest and took backpacks to an orphanage,” she said.
“I fell in love with the type of student who comes to TCC,” she said. “I know I’m making a difference in their lives – not just teaching them A&P, but teaching them something so they are able to get a job and achieve their goals.”
Walck, mother of three adult children, relates to her students easily, telling them, “I was at community college. I was you, a long time ago.”
In addition, she urges them to take advantage of all of the resources TCC offers. “You don’t realize what you can learn from networking,” she said. “TCC has lots of events that bring the community together. If you just come and go, you’re not getting the full experience.”