Career Change to Teaching: Traci Yerby Shifts from Biotech to the Classroom

Notre Dame de Namur University Alumna Traci Yerby

Dr. Traci Yerby, NDNU Alumna and High School Teacher

Traci Yerby worked in the biotech industry in Silicon Valley after earning a PhD in microbiology at University of California, Davis. She had a successful career in stem cell research, corporate development, product management, and marketing. After she and her husband started a family, she took time off, and the principal at her children’s elementary school asked her if she would teach science to the kids on a part-time basis.

“At first I taught just as a lark, without a credential,” said Traci. “It was the most fun I’d had in a long time.” The principal and some of the teachers encouraged her to think about teaching as a career. She had some experience both as a teaching assistant in grad school, and as an adjunct faculty member at state universities.

Traci researched various graduate programs and decided to attend Notre Dame de Namur University. “I discovered that NDNU offered the most streamlined path to a credential,” she recalls. “When I started the program I felt, ‘This is where I belong.’ I was getting the right information at the right time in my life. At Notre Dame, I learned that each student has a unique story and you have to tap into those stories to reach them.”

She did her student teaching at Half Moon Bay High School on the California coast, near her home. “A biology teacher transferred out of the school right when I finished my credential, and I was lucky enough to land the job,” she says. “I love getting to know the students, watching them grow from freshmen to seniors. Just to have a little part in shaping their futures is a privilege.”

Traci was particularly gratified to help a high-achieving student in her AP Biology class who was having problems with anxiety and depression, falling behind in his classes. “He was able to open up to me and discuss his difficulties,” she recounts. “We’d chat after school and I worked with him to develop a timeline for finishing the missing assignments in all his classes. He said, ‘You‘re my person, Ms. Yerby.‘ With medicine and therapy, he was able to get back on track and earned high marks on his AP tests. I’m so proud of how far he has come, and he still visits with me.”

She tells her students about the range of ways that biology can be applied in careers. “There are medical uses for biology, of course, but now there are also ways to apply biology in engineering, informatics, law—I try to give them a sense of the opportunities.” Traci also hopes to serve as an example for girls who are interested in science. “As a female student, I didn’t have a lot of role models in science when I was in school. I tell all my students that they can be anything they want.”

Traci feels fortunate that she’s been able to make the transition to education. “Teaching is a great way to give back to the community,” she remarks. “Becoming a teacher is the best decision I ever made.”

For information on teaching credential programs at Notre Dame de Namur University, please visit our website.

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