Randy Monroe BA ’98, MS ’10 (Photo: Randy Monroe)
Whether it’s engaging sixth grade students about sedimentary rocks or rocking a weekend crowd as the lead vocalist for a Van Halen cover band, Cal State East Bay alumnus Randy Monroe (BA ’98, MS ’10) says it’s “all about knowing your audience.”
“Being up front of a class is like being on stage,” Monroe said.
Despite taking a rather circuitous route to becoming an award-winning science teacher at the equally award-winning Foothill Middle School in Walnut Creek, Monroe said he has always had an interest in wildlife and the earth sciences.
That no doubt stems in part to having his mother, Charlene, as the inspiration for the naming of Pluto’s moon, Charon. That moon was discovered in 1978 by astronomer Jim Christy, who is Monroe’s stepfather.
Al Medvitz, former CSUEB geography lecturer, also served as an inspiration for Monroe’s teaching career.
“He said not to worry about the class requirements and syllabus, but do something that will be practical to you as a teacher,” Monroe said. “So I developed a teaching unit on agriculture. It was the first unit that I developed and it was my first class that allowed me to really utilize the time in a practical manner. I loved it”
Cal State East Bay professors Bijan Gillani and Li-Ling Chen, Monroe’s graduate advisers, further encouraged his practical teaching application. As a result, his master’s thesis was on the importance of field trips.
“My sixth grade elementary school teacher, Richard Van Atta, took me under his wing,” Monroe said. “He also took our class on at least one field trip a month, ironically referred to as informal education, but having a lasting impact on me.
“Ultimately, this made me a strong proponent and advocate of field trips, as (financial) support waned during the recession. I saw a need," he added.
It was that need and freedom which sparked his entrepreneurial side and led him to establish Monroe Science Educational Services, a company offering real-world, hands-on, inquiry-based, field study trips. He said that further reinforced “my passion for teaching science to sixth graders.”
Monroe has been selected to serve on the NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab New Horizons Education Team as well as the NASA/Lawrence Berkeley National Labs Space Science Center's Mars Atmospheric and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) Education Team. Both teams are scheduled to launch in November. He also has been a board member of the Contra Costa Association of Science and Math Educators for the past 10 years and an adjunct faculty member of the Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute in Microbial Ecology, while maintaining a variety of professional and personal relationships with many local, state and national science industries and institutions.
With all his achievements in the science realm, it’s hard to believe that Monroe is also the front man of “HOT FOR TEACHER, the Van Halen Experience,” which he began in 1999 with friend and guitarist Terry Lauderdale.
What do his students think of “Mr. Monroe” rocking on stage as David Lee Roth, Sammy Hagar or himself -- as “Rockin' Randy?”
“(They think) it's pretty neat and so cool,” Monroe said. “Along with teaching science, performing has been my dream. When you work real hard and keep the faith, dreams surely do come true. Over the years a number of my students and their parents have come to shows,” he said.
He noted that the audience was filled with both past and present students when his band headlined in June at the Contra Costa County Fair.