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Alicia Conerly, Ed.D.


President, National Science Teaching Association


Instructional Specialist, Marion County School District, Mississippi 


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A twisty, surprising path led her from experimenting with science to creating new paradigms of science learning. 

IWAK Alicia Conerly SQ.jpg
Growing UpAlicia Conerly
00:00 / 03:23
Meeting the Need Alicia Conerly
00:00 / 06:56

Education Needed! 

To fulfill her goal of becoming a pharmacist, Alicia had to find a better high school than the one in her tiny hometown. Used to being in charge of younger kids, she moved in with one of her aunts, Loretta, and her cousin Leslie, who lived in the city of Gulfport. "My aunt, a retired master sergeant out of the Air Force, was like, 'Alicia, you can come and live with us, and so you'll be in charge of wherever Leslie needs to go. You get to take her.' I was like, 'This is already my job.' Gulfport High offered Allied Health classes which fulfilled the requirements for particular medical careers. This is where I got the true exposure. I became a member of HOSA." (See Try This! below). Through this, Alicia was able to work in several clinics. "It was just really good exposure." 










Advice to StudentsAlicia Conerly
00:00 / 04:30
The MentorAlicia Conerly
00:00 / 03:38


HOSA is an organization for Future Health Professionals. Alicia's involvement with this organization led to various jobs working in different health organizations, including those where technologists and other medical support careerists worked. She feels her participation in HOSA led to her partial college scholarship to the school where she began studying pharmacy, Florida A & M. 


"All of my life, and then in Gulfport, I still had family over me," Alicia remembers with a laugh. "To be fresh out of Mississippi water and go to Tallahassee, Florida, with no supervision... Well, I lived the best life a college student cpould possibly imagine." Yet she was back home after a year and a half, having flubbed assignments and tests and made her first bad grades. "I had to withdraw from classes," she says. At home, she regrouped and considered what had gone wrong for her. "It was one of the best things that could have ever happened to me, having to fail." In hindsight, she doesn't consider it a failure now, but she sure did at the time. "I took a bit of time off, then realized I did want to go back to school." By then her goal had changed. Now she wanted to be a radiologist. "I kept going to classes. I was getting back to finding my way." 


Midway through college, Alicia married and began her family. She wanted to get to work, have a salary, but her husband, Jeff, stepped in. He said, "Only go to school, don't work." I was like, 'I want to work,' and he was like, 'No, you're going to finish your degree.' " She found a program at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, through the University of Mississippi, in cytotechnology, the study of cells, working under a pathologist. "I was like, 'Yay, I still get to continue in the medical field.' It was a pretty small program, like the maximum that gets in is 20. I made the cut, and I was like, 'Wow.'"


At graduation time, Alicia met with her advisor, who had some unexpected wisdom to impart. She told Alicia she wasn't going to like the job she had prepared for. "While I was in school I was around my peers, I was around my friends. But, I knew that at some point the job would have me: Slides come to me, I put them under a microscope, I diagnose, I say what my findings are, then the pathologist will see them, and say yay or nay -- doom and gloom, or 'You're going to be all right' (to the patient whose cells are being analyzed.)

"The advisor said, 'You're not going to want to be stuck behind a microscope every day all day.' She said, 'With your personality you need to be around people. You love people.' And I'm like, 'Lord, what am I going to do?' I felt awful! You had to take an exam when you finished. I took it, and I didn't pass, but only by a few points." And yet she didn't go back to retake the exam. "My mind was already gone." 

Back home, a woman in the family's church asked Alicia to consider taking a job as a substitute teacher. Alicia had been teaching Sunday school to help her husband, who was the Sunday school Superintendent. Now she said, "I don't even like children!" 

"So the Lord, my husband, and Mrs. Gloria Jean Magee, who was on the school board, got me into education." Next, after just two weeks on the subbing job, someone's retirement opened a permanent position. From then on Alicia taught, while pursuing her master's, specialist, and doctorate in education. "I often tell people I've been in the right places at the right times for my career. The advisor was right." 



Now, Alicia is President of the National Science Teaching Association. How did that happen? It started when a fire alarm went off at a state conference Alicia was attending as a high school biology teacher. "There was a 'seasoned' lady there (I call elderly people seasoned!) And she was kind of winded. Because of the way I was raised, I asked her, 'Ma'am, do you want a chair?' I got her some water, and I sat down beside her. She said, 'Thank you so much,' and we exchanged pleasantries. She said, 'I'm Dr. Juliana Texley. Do you know about NSTA?' I said, 'No ma'am, never heard of it.' And she said, 'You've just been so nice.' I said, "Well, my mother would be mad at me if I did not take care of everyone around me.' She said, 'I want you to take my contact information, and I want you to try to come to NSTA.'"

Alicia interrupts herself to say, "This is why I tell people it is always important to follow up with people and network. You never know who you're talking to or sitting next to." The next week, Alicia followed up with Dr. Texley, saying, "I hope you arrived home without any smoke." 

Dr. Texley wrote back. She put Alicia in contact with Mrs. Amanda Upton of awards and nominations, who asked Alicia to consider applying for the Shell Urban Science Educator Development Award through the NSTA. Alicia won! Part of the award support her attendance at the next year's NSTA conference. From there, Alicia continued applying for grants and awards, and participating in NSTA committees. 

She ran for office on the platform "Ready, Set, Reset," a nod to the delays students have experienced in science learning because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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