Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a six-part series profiling the Teacher of the Year finalists for Gwinnett County Public Schools.
Eight years after she began a second career, Hyunjin Son has found more than a job. She’s found her passion.
A former research engineer who once worked on a project that developed a patent, Hyunjin Son said this week that she’s grown the most as a teacher since she came to the Gwinnett School of Math, Science and Technology in 2010. She previously taught at Peachtree Ridge High.
Son teaches Foundations of Engineering and Technology to ninth graders, and she hopes to expose engineering to as many students as possible, and that her students could help change society’s views on women in engineering.
When Son learned she won GSMST’s Teacher of the Year award, and later was selected among the six finalists for the Gwinnett County Public Schools award to be announced at a banquet on Thursday, she described her reaction as “shock and disbelief” and also one of the biggest moments in her career.
“Being in this environment, you’re part of excellence, so it forces you to become like everybody else here,” she said. “As a teacher, I’m quite innovative and I take risks as far as my curriculum.”
Son became a teacher after she worked in the male-dominated field of engineering research where she didn’t have much in common with her colleagues outside of work.
Though one of her proud moments of that stage in her career came working in bio-medical research with the University of Chicago on a patent that dealt with ways to cool down the body following cardiac arrest before a person arrives at a hospital.
“I learned so much from that experience. I thought about what I could do and what I wanted to do,” she said. “I specifically wanted to target high schoolers, because I could influence them the most and get them exciting about engineering, especially the girls.”
Her previous job was just that, a job, she said. Now she has passion and enjoyment, and described her colleagues as, “the most amazing people I’ve ever met.”
With an engineering degree, and not a formal background in education, Son said she couldn’t measure up to other educators around the county who have, “been teaching forever, living, breathing this.”
“I don’t see myself as someone I envision as Teacher of the Year,” she said. “Every single day, I’m still learning.”
At GSMST, Son started the new integrative course for physics and engineering, which helped the school gain certification from the Georgia Department of Education in science, technology, engineering and math.
Like several of the finalists, Son said the process of being nominated for Teacher of the Year, and advancing through the stages, has been reflective, and the most beneficial part.
“At the end of the day, what I do in the classroom is probably the most important aspect of my career,” she said. “It forced me to look upon those eight years in the classroom, and I don’t think I would have done that without this experience.”
Son added that her previous experience outside of the classroom also helped shape her as a role model for young women to get excited about engineering.
“I took a really long roundabout way to get to the classroom, but in retrospect it’s made me a better teacher,” she said. “This is where I’m supposed to be. I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life or career.”