Education alumna named 2024 Alaska Teacher of the Year and National Geographic fellowship recipient

by Matt Jardin  |   

Catherine Walker headshot
Dimond High School science teacher and 2024 Alaska Teacher of the Year Catherine Walker, M.A.T. Education '06. (Photo courtesy of Catherine Walker)

Toward the end of the 2022-23 academic year, the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development named education alumna Catherine Walker the 2024 Alaska Teacher of the Year. Instead of riding the high of her newfound honor into summer vacation, Walker launched into more teaching, spending her summer in Costa Rica as an Earthwatch Project Kindle teaching fellow, then in Valdez as an ecology instructor at Prince William Sound College.

During the traditional academic year, Walker teaches science at Dimond High School and is entering her 18th year. Recently, she expanded her class offerings to include career and technical education. 

“Now we're at a point in the Anchorage School District of big change,” said Walker. “I’m glad the things I’m excited about match up with what our district and state want — promoting education that prepares students for quality jobs where they can have a great life and help their communities.”

Born and raised in Sitka to a mother who was also a teacher, Walker knew from watching her mother constantly take work home and answer student calls that she did not want to follow the same demanding career path. So, she pursued an education in medicine with the goal of becoming a surgeon.

Catherine Walker planting
Walker planting pollinator-friendly plants in Costa Rica as part of the Earthwatch Project Kindle teaching fellowship. (Photo courtesy of Catherine Walker)

Eventually, Walker saw what her mother was so passionate about when she traveled to Mali for the Peace Corps. Serving as a natural resource management volunteer, Walker fell in love with teaching, educating students ages 3 to 13 in a mud brick building over two years before returning to Alaska and enrolling in the education graduate program at UAA.

While not becoming a surgeon, Walker uses the same foundation she built as a pre-medical student to teach science and inspire students to explore careers in the STEM field. 

“Technology, careers and science all come together to help people, and I hope that in my courses I'm preparing students to become our future surgeons, veterinarians, emergency room specialists and anesthesiologists,” said Walker. “Maybe long term I'm helping people [medically], but in a different way than I ever expected.”

Walker has a busy year ahead. Not only is the 2023-24 academic year underway, but as Alaska Teacher of the Year, she is a candidate for National Teacher of the Year. The winner of the national competition will be announced next spring during a ceremony at the White House. Coincidentally, it will be her second time visiting the White House after she visited in 2017 upon winning a Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

Additionally, this October, Walker will travel from the Solomon Islands to New Zealand as part of the Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship made possible by Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic. Over the course of three weeks, she will learn about marine life and the cultures of the region and will broadcast her experience to her students back in Anchorage.

“I really want [this fellowship] to be something students feel a connection to,” said Walker. “My approach to teaching is to really make sure what students are learning matters to them and figure out what careers they could do with that interest and that spark of joy.”

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