Jean Siracusa, a beloved biology teacher at Cayuga Community College’s Fulton Campus since 1995, was recently recognized with the WCNY Women Who Make America Award, in acknowledgment of her devotion and contributions to science and education. She was one of 17 Central New York women to receive the award, which pays tribute to those whose lives enrich local communities and help shape the nation’s identity.
Siracusa is a Cayuga alumna with a B.S. in biology from Wells College, who has also completed graduate work in ecology and conservation biology at SUNY ESF. Among her bountiful accomplishments, she has worked with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on numerous habitat and wetland projects, served on the Cayuga County Environmental Management Council, acted as chair for the Owasco Flats Nature Reserve for 12 years, and was instrumental in establishing a community garden in Fulton. She also runs Happy Bee Heirloom Farm, a local grower of sustainable organic produce.
“I’ve done a lot of things because they were exciting to do, and because they made a difference,” said Siracusa, mom of four and grandmother of two. “I’ve worked in a rain forest, done research on spiders, and worked in Hawaii. I’ve had a lot of amazing teachers and mentors, met visionaries who were an inspiration to me, and worked with wonderful people who are always there and never say no.” To summarize, as she puts it, “I’m fascinated with life!”
As a teacher, Siracusa strives to understand her students—their level of awareness about the world beyond their immediate experience, the ways they interact, what is important to them—so she can help make a connection with them and get them excited about learning. “I’m trying to give them the freedom to express themselves, asking them, ‘What do you know? What have you observed? What do you think?’” she said. “It’s humbling, and pretty wonderful, to learn from them and with them.”
The colleagues and students who nominated Siracusa for the WCNY award refer to her as a committed and passionate teacher, both in and out of the classroom. “She is always looking for the best way to teach her students and her community about sustainability and the interdependence of all living systems,” said one. Another added, “All who meet Jean Siracusa walk away optimistic and full of motivation.”
Honorees of the WCNY award were recognized during a ceremony on March 1 at the Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls and participated in a discussion about the contributions of women and the challenges they face in their personal and professional endeavors. Award winners and guests were also invited to tour the Women’s Hall of Fame and Visitor Center.
Visit www.wcny.org/insight to view a video about award recipients, including an interview with Siracusa, and www.wcny.org/education/makers to read excerpts from letters submitted by some of the students and colleagues who nominated her for the award.