Teacher Interview: Mrs. Brandon

Mrs. Bianca Brandon has been teaching forensics and biology at Staten Island Tech for a number of years. Her path to becoming a teacher is incredibly unique and fascinating.

At a young age, Mrs. Brandon discovered her passion for biology, which was further encouraged by a series of great teachers that she once had.

“In my high school biology class, we got to do a bunch of dissections, which I thought was the coolest thing in the world.” she said: “We dissected an earthworm, a crayfish, a frog—that was it, I was hooked once we started doing that”.

In college, Mrs. Brandon went on to study biology, receiving her bachelor’s degree in science education and her master’s degree in molecular biology. It was while she was seeking her master’s degree and working on her thesis that her career in forensics, as she described, “kind of happened by accident”. One of Mrs. Brandon’s professors told her about an opportunity to intern at the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office, which she took because it “sounded interesting” to her. She later got hired after completing the internship.

While working at the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office, Mrs. Brandon and the group she was with were busy from the beginning. “We were hired primarily because there was a backlog of cases—primarily sexual assault cases—where there had never been any DNA testing done.” she said. Due to the small size of the department, and lack of DNA databases at the time, rape kits were collected from victims but not tested unless there was a suspect. Once DNA databases became more established, though, this testing became necessary because the databases could potentially find a match to the collected DNA to solve the case.

“So when I was hired, there were literally thousands of sexual assault kits that had never been tested. We were swamped. We did six months of training and while we were doing the training, we were also processing the cases for DNA testing.” she recalled.

Not long after this, the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center happened, creating even more work at the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office. Mrs. Brandon was on a team working to identify victims from the attack. “That was really challenging; scientifically challenging and emotionally challenging as well”, she explained in regards to the abundance of cases. Even more cases began to pile up when a plane crash occurred in Queens just a few months later.

“We had two mass disasters that we were working on simultaneously,so it was just complete insanity” said Mrs. Brandon. From this, Mrs. Brandon gained a lot of experience in DNA analysis and forensics. Between her internship and job as a DNA analyst, she worked at the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office for about four years, although she said “it felt like a lifetime of experience because it was just a really busy time.”

Mrs. Brandon teaching AP Biology students in 2017. Photo courtesy of UFT.

This lab work was “almost a diversion” from Mrs. Brandon’s original goal of becoming a teacher, something that she had always wanted to do. But she valued her work in the lab, saying, “I knew that if I had more lab experience, it would help me become a better teacher because I would be able to give more of those types of experiences to my students.”

After working on cases related to the 9/11 attacks and Queens plane crash, Mrs. Brandon decided that “it was time to switch gears” and become a teacher. She carried a lot of what she learned while working at the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office into the classroom. “When I trained as a forensic scientist, I had never taken a class in forensics, so I learned everything on the job. I think that in the forensics science class in particular, you are learning by doing.”

Due to this, Mrs. Brandon’s teaching philosophy involves “learning by doing”. She believes classroom activities “should be as authentic and real as anything you would experience working in the field of biology or forensic science”.

Mrs. Brandon enjoys being creative with lesson ideas in order to help students understand certain concepts. “It’s almost like there’s this one side of my brain that’s very scientific and analytical ,and then there’s the kind of creative side and they both come together nicely when I come up with those lesson plans.”, she said.

But her favorite part of teaching is engaging with students. “I just have a blast with the kids. I hate those days when we’re in school and the kids are not. I just find it incredibly boring”, she laughed, “There’s such a diverse group of students here and I just think that’s incredible. I just love coming to work everyday.”

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