2023 Student Essay Contest 9-12 Honorable Mention

“Igniting Minds: Dr. Heitzman’s Inspiring Journey from Kiln to Classroom”

by: Mark Leschinsky (Bergen County Academies)

Interviewee: Carla Heitzman (Bergen County Academies)

The blazing fire’s scorching flames illuminated the silhouette of a brave woman whose fearless hands deftly navigated the kiln’s raging heat. She courageously pushed the limits of her craft, bringing raw materials to life in the midst of bursting flames.

But little did she know, her skills with the kiln making stunning pottery were not the only ones that would be put to the test. For the next day, she would be facing a much more formidable challenge, one that strikes fear into the hearts of many: teaching calculus to a classroom full of teenagers. She stepped into her classroom with a trusty whiteboard marker in hand, ready to teach a room of twenty-two how to find dy/dx. It was as if a switch had flipped—she was now a math teacher, determined to ignite the minds of her students with the same fiery passion she brought to her craft as a potter on weekends.

Meet Dr. Heitzman, the mathematical magician who has the power to ignite the love for numbers in every heart with her contagious smile and radiating energy. With a Bachelor’s degree from MIT and a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois, both in materials science and engineering, Dr. Heitzman is a highly accomplished lover of math. But what truly sets her apart is her unwavering passion for inspiring students to love and understand the art of mathematics. To understand that, let’s take a trip back in time…

Once upon a time, in a small town in the garden state of New Jersey, there lived a little girl named Dr. Heitzman. Well, she wasn’t a Dr. … yet. With a curious mind and a love for all things mathematical, she spent her days exploring the depths of numbers and equations, diving into their secrets and mysteries. As she grew older, her passion for math only intensified, and she took part in Johns Hopkins’ Center for Talented Youth, a program for gifted students with a love for learning. Dr. Heitzman was part of one of the cohorts of CTY’s intensive learning program, and tens of thousands of students would participate in the decades following… even me, twenty-five years later!

As a young student, Dr. Heitzman was not content to simply sit and listen to lessons. She was determined to challenge herself, push her limits, and see just how far her mind could take her. And so, she took algebra after seventh grade at CTY, absorbing mathematical concepts with an unrelenting passion that only grew as she got older. When her local middle school could not provide a Geometry curriculum, she sought enrollment at a neighboring high school where she could continue her studies and pursue her passion.

High school was a time of shining brilliance for Dr. Heitzman. She excelled in advanced classes and was a member of the Math Team as well as the President of the Physics Club. Her love for math and her dedication to her studies only grew stronger, and she spent her summers continuing to learn. During one math-packed summer, she participated in an intensive program at Columbia with an MIT graduate student, where she honed her skills and exemplified her love for mathematics.

When it came time for the college admissions process, Dr. Heitzman was ambitious: she wanted to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She studied materials science at MIT. She was one of the few female students in her computer science lectures at MIT, but her unrelenting persistence drove her to follow her ambition. She graduated early in only three and a half years!

She then pursued a Ph.D. at the University of Illinois, where she researched diffusion in self-assembled monolayers. When Dr. Heitzman was almost finished with graduate school, she recognized that teaching was her true calling; she wanted to excite young minds as they explored the beauty of numbers and share her love of mathematics with the next generation.

After being accepted into the New York City Teaching Fellows program, Dr. Heitzman developed a deep love for teaching. When she returned home to New Jersey, she accepted a position as a teacher at the prestigious public magnet high school, Bergen County Academies (BCA). She has been inspiring her students’ imaginations for the past seventeen years, encouraging them to reach their full potential and grasp the unlimited applications of mathematics.

Because of her tremendous enthusiasm for teaching mathematics, she has become a widely regarded and admired instructor. Her kind words, contagious energy, and infectious smile have the power to radiate excitement in any classroom she walks into. Her unique approach to teaching math has made the subject not only fascinating but also captivating for students.

Dr. Heitzman’s love for mathematics extends beyond the classroom, as evidenced by the BCA Mathematics Education Innovations Conference and Round Table she initiated and organized in 2017. For nearly 10 years, she taught in or organized our school’s Math Competition Camp. Dr. Heitzman was instrumental in recruiting teachers, designing courses, and developing curricula, while also managing the day-to-day operations of the four-week program. Her tireless efforts and commitment to education made the program a huge success.

Dr. Heitzman is also dedicated to equity, not just for her students, but for all teachers. She recently became the Vice President of the school district’s teacher union, where she is motivated to negotiate fairer wages and foster equity.

Dr. Heitzman is a brilliant example of what may be done when one is driven by a passion for learning and serving others. Dr. Heitzman is renowned in her school community as a pioneer, a light of hope, and a testament to the transformational power of education. She continues to instill a love of learning in her students with the same fierce passion that she practices with her pottery in the blazing kiln during weekends.