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Mechanical Engineering Alumnus Honored with Presidential Teaching Award
Natalie Thayer
Jonathan Claydon
Jonathan Claydon

Mechanical engineering alumnus Jonathan Claydon was recently recognized as a state finalist for the 2015 Texas Presidential Awards for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching (PAEMST). The PAEMST are the nation’s highest honors, awarded to recognize instructors who contribute to their communities as role models and leaders in the field of STEM education. Perhaps not surprisingly, the application process is arduous and requires nominees to submit a resume, letters of recommendation, classroom video footage and an extensive narrative essay.

Claydon, who excelled in advanced math and science subjects like calculus and physics during his senior year of high school, was drawn to the UH Cullen College of Engineering because he saw engineering as a “way to keep learning interesting things.”

As an undergraduate student at UH, Claydon was a member of the Honors College, which he said strongly impacted his undergraduate experience. He found that the honors program provided him a “home base” within the university. In addition to living in one of the Honors College dorms on campus, he bonded with his classmates over long study sessions in the Honors library and late-night peer tutoring sessions.

After receiving his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering--which, he was quick to say, was no easy feat—Claydon landed a job in the construction industry as a project engineer. However, after a couple of years in construction management, he realized the industry wasn’t for him and began to seek a new career that would be “more actively engaging during the day.” Enter, academia.

As Claydon was considering possible new career directions, he learned that a couple of his friends were exploring alternative teaching certifications. Claydon’s interest was piqued and he enrolled alongside them. Deciding which subject to teach was a “no-brainer,” Claydon said. Because of the extensive math classes he’d taken as an engineering student and his lifelong interest in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields, Claydon enthusiastically jumped headfirst into teaching high school mathematics.

It didn’t take long before Claydon found that teaching offered him what he was hoping for with a career change. He said the field kept him engaged throughout the day, offered interesting problems and provided lots of interpersonal interaction.

When speaking about his approach to the classroom, Claydon emphasized the importance of valuing students’ time, listening to what students have to say and building trust through mutual respect. Claydon said he encourages peer-to-peer discussion and prefers hands-on projects over content lectures. And, perhaps most notably, Claydon said he recognizes that students have lives beyond the classroom and tries to maintain a holistic view of their commitments.

Claydon is one of five Texas state finalists. The next stage of the process will take place on the national level, and the 2015-2016 PAEMST winners will be announced next year. In the meantime, when asked what it feels like to be a state finalist, he said he’s looking forward to the start of the new semester to be able to tell his students, “Hey, we did it! It was worth it; it paid off.”

View our video of the interview with Jonathan here.

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