Voelcker Biosciences Teacher Academy (VBTA)

Meet The Leaders

Over the years, the Teacher Enrichment Initiatives in the Department of Medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center has provided teacher professional development opportunities for area teachers. “Summer Intensives” are one such opportunity to develop VBTA leaders. An intensive involves six weeks of on-site collaboration, research, and curriculum writing. Over 70 teachers, along with university researchers, have participated in this enriched experience and have grown an impressive collection of interdisciplinary health science learning materials that are offered free on the project website: TEIteachers.org.

These alumni represent twelve school districts in Bexar and surrounding counties.


VBTA Leaders

Rosemary Riggs, M.A.
Ms. Riggs is responsible for being the main liaison between participating school districts and UTHSCSA. Ms. Riggs develops and conducts in-services and trainings for teachers. She works one-on-one with teachers on curriculum development, lesson planning, and adaptations of the materials. Ms.Riggs assists with the analysis and interpretation of the evaluation materials and coordinates with the teacher writing teams to revise the materials.



Shaunna Garner, M.Ed.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I started my career in education in Northeast ISD (NEISD), teaching 8th grade Science over a span of 9 years. I received a Bachelor of Science degree in Community Health from Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas in December of 2000. After graduation, I was a Project Leader with an AmeriCorps group called City Year. During this year, I worked with students at West Avenue Elementary to help them improve TAKS scores, and performed various community service projects around the San Antonio area. AmeriCorps then awarded me with an education grant to help pay for graduate school. In May of 2004 I graduated with my Master’s degree in Health Education from Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas. The VBTA is not my first rodeo with the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA), as I was involved with the Teacher Enrichment Initiative’s Positively Aging grant in the summer of 2006. I also helped facilitate collaboration between NEISD and the UTHSCSA with my Scrubs Club initiative at the NEISD middle school I taught at for six and a half years. The Scrubs Club was for 8th grade students interested in the medical/health professions.

What inspired you to become a science teacher?
I was inspired to become a science teacher by my high school biology and anatomy/physiology teacher at Churchill. Mrs. Kimble explained concepts in a way I could understand, and was always very complimentary of my performance in class – gave me great confidence in the field of science.

What is your favorite part of teaching?
Hands down, my favorite part of teaching is building relationships with the kids. I try to make most of the extracurricular events to see them outside of the classroom setting, and sing their praises to the parents.

What's your worst pet peeve?
My worst pet peeve is people who speed past me in school zone. I’m thinking of making a brightly colored sign that says ‘SCHOOL ZONE,’ and hold it up to my window when the opportunity presents itself.


Diana Natividad, B.S.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I am a native San Antonian. I graduated from St.Mary's University with a B.S. in Biology and a minor in Chemistry. I received my teaching certification through their education program. I have a young daughter who is my world. Currently I teach in the San Antonio Independent School District at Longfellow Middle School.

What inspired you to become a science teacher?
Science has always been a passion for me. I am an avid animal lover, so naturally I wanted to be a veterinarian. Then I worked as an intern with a local vet and found maybe this is not for me. I did some volunteer work as a girl scout leader and learned that I am pretty good with kids. So my natural step was to sync my love of science to my kid magnet personality and ta-da a middle school science teacher is born. I have been at this for over 16 years and I still love it! I know the impact I have with my students is a vital part of our global society. I am well aware that it is my responsibility to help shape them into the positive productive empathetic global citizens that can sustain our planet.

What is your favorite part of teaching?
My favorite part of teaching is seeing the LMN moment. That's what I call it when my students go “OOOOOH, now I get it!”, I thrive on those moments. I joined the VBTA leadership team, because I was very inspired by their mission. I definitely see the need for an organization that is led by teachers and reaches across district boundaries. Establishing a local network of science teachers that serve as a vital resource for one another has been a very rewarding experience. It has allowed me to grow both as an individual and within my class.

What’s your favorite book?
Hands down favorite book is the Harry Potter Series. I owe many of my heartbreaks and true loves to those characters. Always.


Kara Powell, M.Ed.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I grew up in southeastern corner of New Mexico. I attending Eastern New Mexico University where I majored in Occupational & Vocational Education specializing in Medical Assisting.  After college, I spent 3 years teaching medical assisting, phlebotomy and Anatomy and Physiology at my alma mater.  I feel in love with teaching and wanted to help more students catch the bug for science.  I moved to Texas in 2005, became alternatively certified in 2006 and starting teaching 8th grade science in Poteet, TX.  

I became involved with VBTA in 2009 when I attending a Fall Meeting by accident.  I am not even sure how I stumbled upon the flyer but I will be forever grateful for registering that day.  I was able to connect with other 8th grade teacher in the area.  This played a major role as I was the only 8th grade science teacher in my district.  I felt isolated on my island in Poteet and the VBTA provided tools to my teacher tool belt that I never knew were available.  

Becoming a VBTA leader, was natural step in the ladder of community outreach. VBTA has forever changed my teaching plan and I can think of no better way to serve than to follow the lead of those before me and make the VBTA burn brighter.

What inspired you to become a science teacher?
Teaching is an extension of learning. I believe in the growth mindset. Everything learned from pages of information can be applied to real life. What is your favorite part of teaching? I am passionate about learning, connecting with kids and bridging the gap between words on the page and action in the lab. Students need only get their hands a little dirty.    

What was your favorite movie when you were a kid?
The "Goonies" is my favorite movie. I am the "Goonies" trapped in an adult body. I chase treasure on the weekend in my Geocaching adventures.


Christine Ziese, B.S.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I love animals, enjoy photography and traveling. I speak 4 languages, and love to learn. I have lived in many places (because my dad was military), and was a national student exchange participant in college to Bowling Green State Univeristy (in Bowling Green, Ohio), and was a participant in the Summer Research Opportunity Program (SROP) at Northwestern University, my senior year, in Chicago, IL.

What inspired you to become a science teacher?
People had told me for years I would be a good teacher, so when the opportunity arose for me to change careers, I went and became alternately certified. My degree is in Science, and science has always been my love (next to learning languages).

What is your favorite part of teaching?
I love getting others excited about science. I love it when the kids come in and tell me about a real world connection they have made with something we have learned in class.

Can you tell us an interesting fact about yourself that most people don’t know?
I am of Japanese Descent; (I am first born in this country on my mother's side), and I am actually very shy (working at bath and body works in college helped me be able to speak to people I don't know)