Senior Samantha Yi Gains Recognition for High School Teacher Honored by Northwestern

Senior Samantha Yi Gains Recognition for High School Teacher Honored by Northwestern

Samantha Yi

Five high school teachers who had “transformative effects” on the lives of graduating Northwestern University seniors they once taught will receive a special award during Northwestern commencement on June 19. One awardee, mathematics teacher Sameer Shah, was nominated by SESP senior Samantha Yi.

The educators are the recipients of the fifth annual Northwestern University Distinguished Secondary Teacher Awards. They honor high school teachers who have touched the lives of Northwestern students and carry an award of $2,500 for each teacher and $2,500 for each of their schools.

Shah is a mathematics teacher at Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn, New York, where Yi attended high school. Yi will join her former teacher as he receives the award.

Yi recalls that she begged her high school counselor to allow her to take an extra English class her senior year. However, she needed four years of math to apply for early decision at Northwestern.

Yi said she can still remember the first day she walked into her calculus class at, and was greeted by the most enthusiastic teacher she had ever encountered -- Sameer Shah.

Sameer Shah

“What really got me was when he talked about how beautiful calculus could be,” Yi said. “Mr. Shah never hesitated to point out the overlap between subjects -- math and music, science and English.” Shah said that friends and colleagues say he’s “unnaturally obsessed with teaching.”

“For me, it’s a badge of honor,” Shah said, adding that at the heart of it all, he holds his students to a high standard. “I always meet them where they’re at -- altering my curricula based on the understandings I see -- but I make sure they lead me to deep mathematical understandings, rather than the other way around,” he said.

Bruce Dennis, head of school at Packer, says the depth of Shah’s intellect led the school to take a chance on the then first-year teacher -- something they rarely do. “As a reward for our risk-taking, Sam has affirmed the wisdom of our decision to hire him each and every day over the past eight years,” Dennis said.

Shah earned his bachelor’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his master’s degree from University of California, Los Angeles.

Northwestern University Distinguished Secondary Teacher Awards are co-sponsored by the Associated Student Government and the Office of the President. Eugene Lowe, assistant to Northwestern President Morton Schapiro and senior lecturer in religious studies, chaired the 2015 selection committee.

“Honoring these high school teachers who have played such an important role in our students’ journeys to Northwestern is one of my favorite parts of commencement,” President Schapiro said.

In selecting the winners, the selection committee considered essays from seniors about their former high school teachers. They also considered portfolios submitted by the nominated teachers that included an explanation of their teaching philosophy and letters of recommendation. The nomination period for the Class of 2016 will open this summer, following commencement.

By Hilary Hurd Anyaso
Last Modified: 5/13/15