OAKLAND -- Long committed to science and ecology, Bishop O'Dowd High School made major strides in April with the official groundbreaking of its Center for Environmental Studies.
The center will not open until perhaps December or January. Still, the school took another step forward in its commitment with the August hiring of Andra Yeghoian as its first director of sustainability.
In the job, Yeghoian will oversee the center and spearhead an effort toward the "greening" of the campus as it looks to create a culture of environmental awareness.
"It was exciting to find a place that was ready to implement change," Yeghoian said of her new assignment. "I want to put roots down and help (O'Dowd) grow as a leading organization in sustainability."
O'Dowd, for its part, is equally as excited to have Yeghoian on campus.
"After receiving applications from 42 very well-prepared and capable candidates, the selection committee of faculty and students honed the interviews down to 10," said O'Dowd Principal Pam Shay. "Then the committee selected the top four for reinterviews. At each step of the way, Andra rose to the top."
A teacher for the past eight years, Yeghoian comes to O'Dowd with a varied background that extends well beyond science. Before coming to O'Dowd, Yeghoian taught language arts at Pleasanton Middle School, where she also served as garden and outdoor classroom coordinator. Her teaching resume also includes advanced placement social studies at Berkeley High and extends to the Netherlands, where Yeghoian once served as a secondary-level humanities teacher and sustainability coordinator at American School of The Hague. Through it all, Yeghoian never lost her passion for science.
"I've been incorporating sustainability in my teachings (of both social studies and language arts)," she said.
When speaking with Yeghoian, the passion for her work becomes plainly clear.
"I love a challenge," she said.
As she has through her teaching career, Yeghoian also took on many of them in her studies. As an undergraduate at UC Davis, Yeghoian went on to earn a bachelor's degree in international relations while minoring in music and Italian. Later at Davis, she earned a credential in educational administration as well as K-12 teaching credentials in English and social studies and a K-8 credential in multiple subjects.
More recently, Yeghoian graduated with an MBA in sustainable business and organizational systems from Bainbridge Graduate Institute of Washington state. At O'Dowd, Yeghoian will face the challenge of lowering costs of such items as water and utilities. As for creating a "green" mentality on campus, the work becomes much less daunting when considering the presence of the school's Living Lab, 4.5 acres of plants and wildlife that serve as an outdoor science classroom. This, combined with Yeghoian's knowledge and enthusiasm, gives O'Dowd the highest hopes for success with its center and overall sustainability program.
"Andra is passionate, articulate and academically prepared for this responsibility," Shay said. "Her colleagues have described her as highly organized and creative. She is an appropriate match for establishing an all-encompassing program that will reflect our values of justice and sustainability as a school community in the heart of Oakland."
Recently, work crews laid the concrete slab on which the center will be built. Yeghoian looks with anticipation to its opening and the opportunities it will bring to O'Dowd's students.
"It would be awesome to get some kids in there the second semester of the school year," Yeghoian said, "and have some programs over the summer, too."