Carol Stadum, science teacher at Huntington Beach High School, is no prisoner of the Ivory Tower.
She worked on the pioneering "Mohole" project of the 1960s, probing the depths of the Earth's crust. She has gone to sea to solve the mystery of the dwindling sardine population. And, armed with slide projector and a piece of fossilized bone, she almost single-handedly convinced the Board of Supervisors to protect Orange County's prehistoric fossil reef from development.
All of which is virtually unknown to her science students at Huntington Beach High. They know Stadum, 47, as a very good, likable teacher--"someone who does just about everything to make it easier to understand science," a former student said.
Stadum's accomplishments haven't gone unnoticed. She will receive recognition today in Sacramento from the state Board of Education as one of the three best science teachers in California.
'A Very Nice Surprise'
Stadum, Jennifer W. Harris of Ukiah High School and Rita Starnes of John H. Glenn High School in Norwalk are finalists in the National Science Foundation Presidential Awards program. A national panel will pick one as California's Presidential Award winner, earning the recipient a trip to Washington, D.C., for a White House ceremony, plus a $5,000 grant to the teacher's school.
The 13-year teaching veteran said she's pleased and surprised to have made the final three. "At the end of a hard school year, it came as a very nice surprise," Stadum said.
Stadum, who grew up in Orange, lives in Costa Mesa with her 18-year-old daughter, Lynn, a student at Otis Parsons Art Institute in Los Angeles.
"She's a very outstanding educator," said Karin Adams, science department chairwoman at Huntington Beach High. "She's a very warm person who relates to people. She has a good sense of humor. And she's always interested, excited about new technology and developments in space science."
Darryl Stucker, principal of Huntington Beach High, added: "She has an excitement, an exuberance about teaching science. She particularly relates well in teaching new technology and space science . . . which I think are things students are very interested in."
Stadum applied to be the first teacher in space, a slot that was ultimately won by Christa McAuliffe of New Hampshire, who died in the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger in January.
Before her teaching career, Stadum was with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla. Her first project with Scripps was as a scientific assistant, categorizing drilling samples from the Mohole project.
"I was recruited right out of college," she recalled. "The Mohole project was something our (federal) government was doing in the early 1960s. It was an experiment to penetrate the crust of the Earth and reach the mantle."
Stadum said that, as a woman, she wasn't allowed to go on the ocean drilling boats working off the coast of Baja California in Mexico.
But she got her chance to go to sea on a subsequent Scripps project. "I went out on a research project to find out what had happened to the sardines off the coast of California," she said. "As far as I know, I was the first unmarried woman in the United States to go out on a research ship. There'd been women technicians on ships before, but they were the wives of other technicians."
After leaving Scripps, Stadum did scientific research for three years at the University of Washington and Columbia University in New York.
In 1973, she joined the faculty at Huntington Beach High. "I felt education was a good place to go," she said. "I felt I could be a liaison between the sciences and the public with my background. That has been my goal and will continue to be my goal: to try to keep our society informed."
Saving the Fossil Reef
In 1974, that goal brought Stadum before the county Board of Supervisors to save part of a 15-million-year-old fossil reef in the Laguna Hills area.
"The area was scheduled for development," she said. "We got the supervisors to save two acres of it, and later, the developer needed another acre, so we made a deal that he could get it if he'd pay to develop the park. It came out pretty well." Fossil Reef Park, which is next to Laguna Hills High School, preserves for the public part of the county's prehistoric heritage.
One of Stadum's two master's degrees is in geological education. Her thesis for that degree from Cal State Long Beach was on the fossils in Orange County. She also holds a master's degree in school administration from Chapman College.
Keeping abreast of the leaps in science also requires that she take yearly refresher courses, she said. Education to become a scientist and maintain scientific proficiency is expensive, and, yes, she conceded, she has been tempted at times to go into higher-paying industry jobs.