Julie Olson has been an educator for 32 years and is currently teaching at Mitchell High School and Mitchell Second Chance High School in Mitchell, SD. At Mitchell HS she teaches scientific research methods and college credit Biology. At Second Chance, the district’s alternative school, she developed a self-paced, individualized science curriculum for at risk. She is continually looking to improve STEM instruction for motivating at-risk students. In addition to her work at the 9-12 level, Ms. Olson teaches Microbiology and Science Methods for Secondary Teachers as well as mentors pre-service teachers for Dakota Wesleyan University, Mitchell, SD.
Early on, Julie was encouraged by her cooperating teacher to attend their state science teacher's convention. It was small but she was so inspired by them. She continued to attend and took the leap to present. That has since grown into presenting nationally at NSTA, SSP Research Teachers Conference, and even overseas. She learned that everyone has something to offer - even the young teachers.
Her first teaching job was at a very small, rural school where she was the high school science and math department! It was "trial by fire" but she had an administrator that was very supportive and her cooperating teacher was close by and kindly let her borrow equipment as needed. The teaching load was great and very diverse but had its benefits. She saw how concepts connected across the curriculum and was able to integrate them.
She eventually got a teaching job at her own high school where the teaching load was a lot less. She took on assignments such as creating an Environmental Science course, Basic Biology (for SPED students), and expanded their Consumer Chemistry course. It was a taped lesson with the Basic Biology students that she submitted when she won the PAEMST award. That award opened up so many doors for her: getting to help write the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), meeting the leaders of that project (Rodger Bybee, Stephen Pruitt, Brett Moulding) and the very dedicated educators across the country.
A few years ago, Julie was asked to start an in-house science program for an alternative school. It was scary but also empowering that she had total control over the program. She developed a program that could engage students using on-line programming as well as use hands-on labs. She developed special projects for students as their passions and needs arose. Through grant writing, Julie has obtained equipment to start courses such as Introductory Electronics, Drones, Forensics, and Robotics. She is currently creating a Creativity Zone (maker space) that all students at the high school can utilize complete with 3D printers and a CNC machine. She feels that the possibilities are endless. Her advice to new grant writers is to be willing to "lose" a few grants but that your writing skills will get better with each one and one day you will find success. “One just has to be willing to take the plunge. If it doesn't work out, step back, re-group, and be willing to change with the times.”
She has since been very active professionally at the local, state, and national levels. She was a member of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) national writing team (Life Sciences) and NGSS Evidence Statements recently helping with the mapping of the NGSS. She helped translate the current state standards. She is helping her district by leading NGSS professional development sessions and mentoring new teachers. She is co-editor for the newsletter and past-President of the South Dakota Science Teachers Association, is on the Science Advisory Council (SD DOE) and EPSCoR Advisory Board. Nationally, she was on the National Academies of Science Teacher Advisory Council, is a CDC Fellow, and is an NSTA/NCTM STEM Ambassador. She recently received her National Geographic Educator certification, Global Studies Certification (from IREX), and is a Fulbright ESD Japan awardee and continues to collaborate with her Japanese counterparts on sustainability projects with students. She has presented internationally in the United Arab Emirates on the NGSS.
Among her honors and awards Ms. Olson is a National Association of Biology Teachers’ Outstanding Biology Teacher for South Dakota, Varkey Top 50 Global Teacher Prize and received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Teaching in 2007. NSTA presented her with Robert E. Yager Award for Excellence in Science Teaching and Shell Science Lab Challenge District winner 2020.
Ms. Olson has a BS in Biology with a minor in Chemistry, an MA in Biology, and is currently working toward an Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction, all through the University of South Dakota.