The start of every school year isn’t anything like the courtroom scene Mary Lynn Huett had mastered after law school, or even the legal services department she ran later on for a national trade association. No, it’s usually a jury of 20 restless high school teenagers who have signed up for her honors chemistry or AP chemistry course. This is the kind of jury she loves most. It’s what invigorates her about teaching and gives meaning to her work. “I genuinely like high school kids. I like who they are and the potential I see in them, a glimpse of who they will become as adults.”
Mary Lynn started off very much like one of her high school students, working in an upper-level chemistry course that turned out to be a surprisingly welcomed and enjoyable challenge. “My early interests had a lot to do with the high school chemistry teacher who encouraged me in a field that, frankly, was not overrun with females at the time and that I didn’t have any inkling I would enjoy.” Her high school passion became her college calling, and she majored in chemistry at Wake Forest University. Her minor? Art history, also due to the influence of her AP Art History teacher in high school.
Mary Lynn had a transformational summer after her junior year in college. Accepted for a prestigious study abroad program at Oxford University, she discovered something that would completely change her trajectory. “We spent the entire summer studying and discussing environmental issues on a global scale. It helped me see that law school would be a way to tie together several of my interests.” She would go on to pursue her JD degree at the University of Houston Law Center in Houston, Texas, where her emphasis was environmental and energy law. Her first cases out of law school were focused on corporate transactions and litigation, but she would eventually move into regulatory affairs, litigation, and advocacy on environmental matters in Washington, D.C. She would practice for 12 years before trading in legal briefs for chemistry textbooks. “When I left law to teach, I promised myself that if I didn’t like it, I would go back. The truth is, I was hooked in the first two months.” Mary Lynn had to learn the science and art of teaching, but she had a leg up due to her 20 years of experience serving in youth ministry. “The transition to teaching teenagers was natural for me.”
But Mary Lynn didn’t leave all of her legal training behind. In fact, she brings some of it into her classroom. “I see how vital critical thinking and analytical skills are. Much to their chagrin, my students end up applying and analyzing information, not just memorizing and storing away knowledge. I want them to think critically at every level. I have seen so many applications of that in real life. If you can think and problem solve, it doesn’t matter what the topic is. I am under no illusion that anybody is going to run up to these students and ask them to recite the molar mass of argon. But they will say, here’s a problem in the workplace and we need help solving it. Anyone can Google an answer, but what creative resources and problem-solving skills can you draw on to help us over this hurdle? And that is what I want students to take away from these courses.”.
There are many things that Mary Lynn loves about GAC. “Not only does this place provide so many open doors for students to discover their gifts and talents, but it also does a great job of offering opportunities for students to think beyond themselves and to give to others. By nurturing both academics and service learning, GAC gives student tools to weave a deep faith into their lives for the long-term”.
Mary Lynn is a testament to how formative a high school experience can be and she hopes to leave her students with the same inspiration she once received. If nothing else, they’ll end up with a very worn out laboratory notebook. And the discovery of something new about themselves in the process.
- Forward-Thinking Innovation