Each day Garfield Pilliner ’01 takes a bit of UNH with him to his classroom at the UNH-affiliated Engineering and Science University Magnet School (ESUMS) in New Haven.
He works to break down difficult concepts that his ninth grade students might struggle with in a way that makes learning fun, much like Professor Andrew Fish. Pilliner links engineering theories and concepts to real life in the way Professor Bouzid Aliane did. And he aims to be as professional, accessible, knowledgeable and cutting edge as Professor Ali Golbazi was.
“I guess you could say I’m a blend of all three,” Pilliner said of the three engineering professors he had during his time at UNH. “If you had a problem or any issue, they would take the time to sit down and really explain things to you. So I took a page out of their books.”
He may have been an electrical engineering major at UNH, but Pilliner was busy absorbing core teaching methods from his professors. He says they helped shape him into the teacher he is today, one who can often be found at the high school at seven in the morning and still there close to seven at night, “talking with colleagues about how we can do this even better, what we can do to engage the students further.
“There are times when students need to know that they have your undivided attention,” he said. “You understand their frustration, and you work with them to figure out their learning gap and help them to understand.”
This year, Pilliner was named the New Haven Public School District’s Teacher of the Year. He said he was honored and humbled by the news, particularly when he thought of his excellent colleagues at ESUMS and the talented professors he learned from at UNH.
His classroom and laboratory are hands-on, project-based and student-centered. “At UNH, I learned how to be an independent learner and to appreciate research, and I found myself getting so excited about research that I got lost in it.”
After graduation, he worked as an electrical engineer. But when he volunteered to tutor students in math, a new career was calling. He taught for a year in Bridgeport and completed a master’s degree in education at the University of Bridgeport. In 2009, he joined the New Haven school district to teach engineering. He also is pursuing an Ed.D. in education at Southern Connecticut State University.
Pilliner, who lives in Hamden with his wife and their two-year-old son, was born in Jamaica. He hopes to use his platform to encourage young people of all backgrounds to consider teaching as a career. He wants the nation’s teaching corps to better reflect the increasingly diverse student populations in classrooms around the country.
“I want to be a dominant voice in trumpeting the need to continually focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education,” he said. “STEM careers are especially important to keeping our country innovative as our students compete in a global economy. I want to advocate for people from different walks of life to go into teaching, so they can bring their own unique perspective to the classroom to engage students and share content that fosters their love for the subject.
“A few weeks ago,” Pilliner concluded, “one of my first students emailed me that he is starting an engineering business. That makes me feel good to know I made a difference.”