Alumnus welcomes Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to STEM school

Lazaro Lopez, Ed.D. ’10, led a STEM-focused curriculum overhaul in 2010 as the new principal of Wheeling High School.

Lazaro Lopez, EdD ’10, spearheaded efforts to incorporate STEM programs into the curriculum at Wheeling High School.

An Aurora University alumnus who received statewide recognition earlier this year, shared good news recently about an innovative educational program with a member of President Obama’s Cabinet. Lazaro Lopez, EdD ’10, former principal of Wheeling High School—now associate superintendent for Township High School District 214—was named the Illinois High School Principal of the Year by the Illinois Principals Association for 2013–2014. This fall during a tour attended by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Governor Pat Quinn, he helped debut a cutting-edge nanotechnology lab—likely the first of its kind in the nation—as part of the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) program at Wheeling High School.

Nanatechnology is the study and application of extremely small things. Scientists work with nanoparticles—one-billionth of a meter in size—and use this research to improve the study in fields, including chemistry, biology, physics, materials science and engineering.

“We all have a stake in ensuring our kids are ready to compete in today’s technology-based economy,” said Duncan. “Through its new nanotechnology lab, the Wheeling High School community and federal, state, and local partners have invested in students to prepare them for fast-growing STEM careers.” He we went on to add that the lab’s most important partners are the teachers who work to inspire and build America’s next generation of inventors, engineers and doctors.

Equipment in the Wheeling High School lab, such as atomic force microscopes, scanning microscopes, an optical profiler and a 3-D printer, is state-of-the-art. Nanotechnology courses housed at the lab will be open to all 12,000 Township High School District 214 students. Wheeling is also incorporating nanotechnology programming within its STEM Summer Camp, which offers weeklong courses in STEM subjects for area elementary and junior high school students.

“District 214 is proud to build on our strong reputation as a leader in STEM education,” said Lopez. “Wheeling High School has been integrating nanotechnology into their traditional science courses for several years, and we are excited to have the capability to offer all District 214 students a nanotechnology course.”

Lopez, an adjunct faculty member at AU,  was named Illinois Principal of the Year for his leadership in developing the school’s STEM curriculum. It was during a Quantitative Educational Research course that was meeting at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy (IMSA) in Aurora when his big idea struck. He started thinking about the importance of STEM education, something strongly emphasized at AU.

“I was sitting there reading everything IMSA had on the walls, their mission, their values,” said Lopez. “And that’s what gave me the idea to make Wheeling a STEM school.”

So, Lopez led the effort to overhaul the curriculum at Wheeling High School. In fall 2010, it was officially rededicated as a STEM school and admitted as an institutional member of the National Consortium for Specialized Secondary Schools of Mathematics, Science and Technology. Only one other school in Illinois shared that distinction at the time: IMSA.

For more information on the Doctor of Education program at Aurora University, visit aurora.edu/education.