My Secret Life: Mentor for the USA Team at IChO

An interesting fact that many students at Quarry Lane don’t know about Ms. Pezzi is that from 2006 to 2008, she was the mentor for the US National Chemistry Olympiad (USNCO) study camp and USA team at the International Chemistry Olympiad (IChO). For those who are unfamiliar with these competitions, study camp is a rigorous program that features 20 of the best students that did well on the USNCO national exam. Then, the top 4 students from study camp represent the country at IChO, an international chemistry competition. 

Ms. Pezzi’s interest in becoming a mentor was her interest in giving back to students by sharing the chemistry she learned from college. She saw it as a unique opportunity to help one of the best students in the nation on chemistry. Another reason was her inner drive to challenge herself as a high school teacher. 

The process to become a mentor involved many steps that included an application, interview, lesson demonstration, etc. A committee would then select the candidate that would be suited to be a mentor. When Ms. Pezzi first applied, she was a finalist but was not chosen as the mentor. Despite that shortcoming, she decided to try again. “I was upset, but not devastated because if I don’t succeed the first time, I can try again.” After applying the second time in 2006, Ms. Pezzi was chosen as a high school mentor. Ms. Pezzi says, “While teaching at school, I received a phone call from the American Chemical Society that I got the position. I was excited.” This marked the start of the life-changing journey that would last for 3 years. 

Photo credit: Kara Pezzi
Ms. Pezzi’s [second to far left] efforts as a mentor were certainly fruitful. Here is a picture of her with her team.

Although being a mentor was a very honorable position, she initially faced significant challenges. “As a first-year mentor, I was brand new, so I had to learn a lot from the older mentors about how to prepare the students.” Another challenge was regarding the level of difficulty of the lessons she taught. Although the students themselves were already challenging themselves with college-level material, She wanted to ensure that the lessons presented to them weren’t too hard to the extent of not understanding the material. 

Overall, her experience as a mentor at IChO and USNCO was quite positive and beneficial because of the effects it had on her career as a teacher and scientist. According to her, being a mentor enabled her to share her knowledge of and passion for chemistry with budding scientists. Not only that, the challenging role encouraged her to take more risks outside of USNCO by applying to prestigious programs (Presidential Teacher’s Award for Math and Science, Einstein Fellowship) that she wouldn’t have taken into consideration if she didn’t become a mentor. Last but not least, the journey proved that she could take on very hard challenges yet be successful. Before she took on this role, Ms. Pezzi says, “I used to have doubts about myself whether I was good enough as a teacher.” Now, she is more self-confident about being a teacher.  

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