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MAT Profile: Avanel Riley

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As a student at the York College in Queens, Avanel Riley discovered an unanticipated love for geology. She reveled in learning the details behind Earth’s dynamic systems—volcanoes, in particular, were a source of unending fascination. But she knew she didn’t want to be a field geologist.

Teacher and MAT alum Avanel Riley.
© AMNH/R.Mickens

She had always been interested in teaching, however. So when a friend from college told her about his experience at the Museum’s Master of Arts in Teaching program, which trains Earth and space science teachers for grades 7–12 in New York State, she thought it sounded like a perfect fit.

For one thing, the relatively brief 15-month time frame featured a wide array of teaching and learning opportunities outside of traditional coursework. In a Museum teaching residency her first summer, Riley worked with the educational carts that dot the Museum’s halls and with middle-school students from the after-school Lang Science Program. During the academic year, she taught in two New York City schools where she benefited from the experience of a mentor while getting the hang of managing a classroom of her own.

Avanel Riley getting some geology field experience this summer.
© A. Riley

Riley’s second summer involved a seven-week practicum doing hands-on research. A particular highlight was a week spent at Black Rock Forest Consortium, a scientific field station in Cornwall, New York. Riley relished the chance to get into the out-of-doors with her fellow MAT students.

“I love all my classmates,” she says. “We’re all so different, but we’re so close-knit—we share everything.”

Originally from St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Riley found a second family of sorts in the MAT program.

“There are so many people you can talk to, and the staff is great,” Riley says. “There is always someone who is offering their help.” 

Now a science teacher at the Kurt Hahn School in Brooklyn, Riley is finding that the student teaching she did in graduate school was time well spent. An expeditionary learning high school named for the founder of the Outward Bound program, the school incorporates outdoor travel with hands-on science learning for its students. After her experience in the MAT program, it's a combination Riley feels especially comfortable with.

In addition, MAT supports its new graduates after they leave the fold. For one thing, each month, for the first two years of their post-graduate jobs, the new teachers and MAT faculty meet on a Friday afternoon to talk shop about what's working in their classrooms, and what surprises they were less prepared for.

Riley in the classroom at the Kurt Hahn School.
© A. Riley

Riley, for one, sounds at ease in her new role.

“I think teaching is transferring knowledge, inspiring people, changing lives,” she says. “I’m big on changing lives.”