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Education School Alumnus Wins Award

Education School Alumnus Wins National Award, Will Meet President

Sean Nank, a math teacher at El Camino High School in Oceanside, will receive the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

(July 14, 2010)

Sean NankEnlarge

Sean Nank

RIVERSIDE, Calif. ( -- In the coming months, Sean Nank, an alumnus of the UC Riverside Graduate School of Education, will travel to Washington, D.C. to meet President Barack Obama and receive the nation’s highest honor for math and science teachers.

Nank, a math teacher at El Camino High School in Oceanside, is one of 103 educators from across the country that learned last month they will receive the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

"I am humbled. I am shocked. It’s still pretty surreal to me," said Nank, who earned his master’s from UCR in 2000 and Ph.D. in 2007.

Nank will make the trip to Washington, D.C. sometime in the next two to six months for an awards ceremony and several days of educational and celebratory events, including visits with members of Congress and science agency leaders. The exact date will be determined by Obama’s schedule.

Nank, a teacher for 14 years, began his career in Illinois. He then taught at Santiago High School in Corona for four years, before switching to El Camino High School nine years ago.

He fondly remembers his time at UCR.

"I can say, without any hesitation, it affected the way I teach and the type of teacher I am," he said.

He gives credit to Judith Sandholtz, John Wills, James Dillon and Reba Page, who served as his advisor, with helping to shape his teaching.

Bi-weekly seminars with Page at her and her other advisees at her Riverside home had an especially strong impact, Nank said. The setting encouraged students to support and learn from each other as they explored ideas about schooling and American culture, and how schools, including UCR’s Graduate School of Education, can be studied, understood and improved.

Page used the words kind, compassionate, thoughtful and caring to describe Nank. She said he is a learner, not a knower.

"He’s this amazingly-open-to-new-ideas kind of person," Page said. "I think that’s why he’s a good teacher. He must see in his students things that enrich his own knowledge of math and his profession."

Nank was nominated for the award in 2008. In May 2009, he submitted his application, which included a video of an algebra class he taught and a 20-page paper based on that class lesson.

In June 2009, he learned he was one of two high school math teachers in California nominated for the national award. A year later, he was told he would get the award, which comes with a $10,000 cash prize.

Nank believes his teaching stands out because of his ability to transition from teaching the entire class to teaching small groups. Another aid: A sense humor, especially when referring to a private joke shared by the class, he said.

As Nank waits for the call to go to Washington, D.C., he is continuing to work on a book that grew out of his dissertation at UCR.

For the book, he spent time in two classrooms to compare traditional instructional methods - standing in front of the class and having students solve problems – with and instructional reform that involves more student interaction and small-group learning.

The book is written. One more chapter needs to edited. Nank hopes it will be published by winter.

The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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