Labs are an important part of Kate Eisele’s teaching. Her field work included studying how soil microorganisms were responding to changes in plant communities from too much nitrogen in natural systems. PHOTO BY JANA BOUNDS

A tradition of education

Kate Eisele on being a sixth-generation teacher

It might be hard to picture Lone Peak High School biology teacher Dr. Kate Eisele with a shaved head. But around 2000, when she was in grad school, her long locks were reduced to a buzz cut. She went full Sinaed O’Connor due to “foolish love.” A fella told her she would look good with her hair like that, though she said it didn’t exactly look good. Still, she is pragmatic when reflecting.

“I always tell people cut your hair rather than get a tattoo or a piercing because it’s not permanent,” she said.

Eisele is a sixth-generation educator on her dad’s side. She knows because her dad showed her some of her grandmother’s writing, in which she discussed her grandfather who was a Civil War veteran and a teacher.

“It’s cool because I was named after her. She and her sister were both college-educated women in the 1920s. She was a teacher and then became a principal in the 1930s,” Eisele said.

Educators are also prominent on her mother’s side of the family. Her cousins, her brothers, nearly all of her uncles – all have degrees in teaching. Her father is a retired English teacher and mother a retired biology teacher.

She grew up in Wisconsin, with family in the upper peninsula of Michigan and in New England. Summers were spent exploring lakes and the ocean as her athletic family embraced the outdoor world. Both her parents were also coaches: her dad coached basketball and her mother coached track. Eisele has loved carrying on that tradition but recently took a back seat with girls basketball due to Covid-19.

Her affection for the outdoors and nature fostered her appreciation of science. She was initially – and still is – drawn to ethnobotany or the study of how people use plants. She could never get a foothold with graduate work in it but has not lost the interest. She is circling back, something she likes to do. Some pursuits may have been tossed aside but her philosophy is that they can always be found again.

“I’ve always loved to garden and identify plants and am getting back into plant foraging, that has always been there. I keep trying to do more of that,” she said.

Eisele emphasizes the importance of lifelong learning. She initially took the fast track – jumping from earning her Bachelor of Science degree in Biology with a plant sciences emphasis to her Phd in Biology at the University of Nebraska– Lincoln.

“I never did a masters, just went straight into phd. I was pretty naive. I don’t [advise] people to do that,” she said and explained people should try a master’s first and see if that is really what they want to do.

She returned to Michigan Tech for her post-doctoral work in the school of forestry before landing in Nevada and decided she wanted to carry-on the family tradition of teaching. There, she became a fellow for the National Science Foundation Program, which emphasizes putting STEM educators in schools.

As far as life and career paths go, she is happy. She is doing what she wants to do and learning alongside the kids she teachers. They keep her young.

“I think I teach through asking questions. I try to do as much hands-on as possible. Sometimes my room is a little bit of controlled chaos. And I constantly make mistakes,” she said. “I’m more of a risk taker in my teaching than I am even in my everyday life: ‘If things don’t work out, that’s okay.’”

She has learned to admit when she is wrong and is teaching the kids to embrace the questions: “Kids appreciate when an adult says, “I don’t know. Let’s find out.’”

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