In late March of last year, ahead of his lecture at the 2017 National Science Teachers Association’s (NSTA) national conference in Los Angeles, Bill Nye the noted "Science Guy" said emphatically that those in attendance were "his people."
He said that schools need teachers who are passionate and who pass their passion on to the students. "We want to get kids excited about science for their whole lives,” he said.
When Nye then told a hall full of teachers about how science will help “change the world,“ he was met with thunderous applause. But deflecting the applause, Nye said that in fact it was that group — teachers in the classrooms — who deserve all the credit.
One of those teachers in the classroom who is helping to change the world is Notre Dame's own "science gal," upper division chemistry teacher Sylvia Mulrenin, who's been at Notre Dame's Pontiac campus since the beginning of the 2003-04 school year. Before that she taught science to all boys at Notre Dame's Harper Woods campus for 10 years.
"I started at NDHS in Harper Woods teaching anatomy and biology and then came to NDP," she said. "When I first started here in Pontiac, I really liked the continued academic rigor and Catholic school feel. And it was a new challenge to teach girls and boys."
Hospital work first
For Mulrenin, teaching science — or teaching at all — was not part of her career plan initially. But science was.
"Before becoming a teacher, I was a medical technologist, working mainly in clinical microbiology at Royal Oak Beaumont Hospital, Grosse Pointe Henry Ford Cottage Hospital, St. John Macomb Hospital and Holy Cross Hospital in Detroit," said Mulrenin, who holds a bachelor of science degree in medical technology from Oakland University and an M.A.T. in secondary science education from Wayne State University.
But getting in front of students in a classroom now feels like a career tailor-made for her.
"I became a teacher because I enjoy working with many different young adults, who mostly are fun to be around," she said. "Plus, I have a genuine love for science and teaching that keeps me stimulated intellectually."
Fr. Joe Hindelang, s.m., the principal of Notre Dame's upper division and Mulrenin's boss, said the longtime teacher has influenced many students during her tenure in the classroom.
"Each year a number of alums talk about how well prepared they were for college chemistry because they had Mrs. Mulrenin," he said.
Though Mulrenin thoroughly enjoys what she's doing for a living, if for some reason she wasn't a teacher, she could see herself in a completely different career.
"I'd love to replace international travel writer Rick Steves and see the world on someone else's dime," she said, acknowledging that she and her family still get in a fair amount of traveling.
'Glamping' and Spartan tailgating
Mulrenin's family includes husband Steve, an internal medicine physician assistant for Henry Ford Health Systems, and two children: Megan, an NDP alum living in Brighton and working as nurse at U-M's University Hospital, and Patrick, also an NDP grad, who lives in St. Joseph, Michigan and works as an engineer at Eagle Technologies, a global supplier of assembly, test, material-handling and process applications.
Now empty nesters, Mulrenin and her husband, who currently live in Shelby Township with Vinnie, their long-haired dachshund, still get together with family and friends at some of their favorite destinations, including Glen Arbor, Mich., where they like to "glamp," and East Lansing for tailgating before attending most MSU home games (both Megan and Patrick graduated from MSU).
But Mulrenin's main focus during the work week remains her Notre Dame students.
"I truly hope I inspire more than a few students to study science – especially chemistry," she said.
Bill Nye, no doubt, would be proud.
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About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy
Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. The school's upper division enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower divisions enroll students in jr. kindergarten through grade eight. All three divisions are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." NDPMA is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school's home page at www.ndpma.org.