PA's Best Biology Teacher
When Rob Puskas was a field biologist tracking raccoons in the Pennsylvania mountains for a federal rabies study, his boss told him to consider a new career. "We'd always draw a crowd, and people would come over and ask, 'Hey, what's going on?'" says Puskas. "And I'd always be the guy who went over and explained to people what we were doing."
Puskas, who majored in wildlife science at Penn State, took his supervisor's advice and went back to college, this time to Robert Morris University. In 2010 he earned his teaching certification under the guidance of professor Matthew Maurer, his faculty advisor and mentor in science. Now at Blackhawk High School in Beaver County, Puskas has won the 2016 Pennsylvania Outstanding Biology Teacher Award. Every year since 1961, the National Association of Biology Teachers selects one teacher from every state for the honor.
The award noted Puskas's work with First Energy Corp. in a cooperative project with his A.P. class in environmental science. As part of the project, students visited the company's nuclear power plant in Shippingport for a control room simulation experiment, then consulted with company experts about prevention strategies for nuclear emergencies, such as the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan.
A native of Marianna, a small mining town in Washington County, Puskas has been an avid outdoorsman all his life. He recently started a fly fishing club at the high school. "I love trying to find ways to connect students to the world around them. Biology is the study of life. Finding a real-world way to use biology to help them understand the world around them — I get excited about that," says Puskas.
The father of two and husband of another teacher is not finished with his studies. Puskas is a graduate student at RMU, working on a master's degree in instructional leadership with a principal certification. "I feel like administration is calling me the same way that becoming a teacher did," he says. "One of the things I like most about teaching is motivating people. I'm really interested in doing that with other teachers."