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March 5, 2019

Former neurobiologist brings science to life at FHS

Photos/Cassandra Brown
Dr. Croft works with FHS student Ashleigh Rankin in her anatomy class.
She’s the most caring teacher I’ve ever had. She’s very passionate. She genuinely cares about her students grasping the material.
— FHS senior Abby Wells
Catherine Croft
• Age: 42

• Home: Warrenton

• Work: Fauquier High School anatomy, biology and chemistry teacher, 2016 to present; CEO and co-founder of Catlilli Games, 2015 to present.

• Experience: Director of life sciences program for students, Ideaventions Academy, 2013-15; life scientist writer and bioinformatics researcher specializing in autism spectrum disorders, MindSpec, 2010-13; PRAT fellow, National Institutes of Health, 2005-10.

• Education: Doctorate in Neuroscience, University of Virginia, 2005; bachelor’s degree, biology, Duke University, 1999; Edward S. Marcus High School, Texas, 1995.

• Civic involvement: STEM advisory council member, Children’s Science Center, 2011 to present; co-coach for FHS academic team; helps organize FHS science fair and “Oceans and Motions” field trip where second-graders visit FHS.

• Family: Children, Benjamin, 10, and Anna, 7.

• Hobbies: Creating and playing STEM board games.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
Diligently poking each other with toothpicks, Fauquier High School anatomy students test the sensitivity of their fingers, scalps, feet and tongues.

“You are going to be neurologists today,” Catherine Croft tells her class. “If you lost your leg or were a burn victim, they would do (a similar) test to see how fast your nerves are growing back.”

A research neurobiologist turned high school teacher, Dr. Croft strives to bring science alive in her biology, anatomy and chemistry classes.

“It’s kind of my mission in life to bring hands-on science to every kid no matter what level, no matter what age,” Dr. Croft says.

“She’s the most caring teacher I’ve ever had,” says FHS senior Abby Wells, who took anatomy in the fall semester. “She’s very passionate. She genuinely cares about her students grasping the material.”

Dr. Croft’s in-depth teaching style in anatomy has helped prepare her for a planned career as a nurse practitioner, Abby says.

Dr. Croft has made it her mission “to raise public awareness of science concepts.”

> Video at bottom of story

As a high school student, “I hated science,” she admits. “I never in a million years would have been a scientist. It was all worksheets and memorization and boring things.”

While attending Duke University, she stumbled into a love of neuroscience while observing students studying the brain.

“I thought it was the coolest thing. They were mapping the growth of brain cells. They were like a little family in the lab solving mysteries, and I was like, ‘How come I was never taught that this is what scientists do?’ ”

At the end of her post-doctorate research at the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Croft had her first child and found a work-life balance difficult.

“To be in the lab is so competitive, because there are not many positions,” she says. “You really have to be there 80 hours a week. It’s really hard for women in science.”

For the next three years, she worked as a life scientist writer and researcher, studying autism spectrum disorders and the brain.

“It’s very lonely. It’s you and a computer in a room,” Dr. Croft says. “I’m a people person. I love teaching and outreach. I would go to high schools just for fun and teach about human brains.”

With a newfound love of teaching, Dr. Croft got a job writing curriculum at an after-school science academy for 2- to 12-year-olds.

“It was like a teaching boot camp. I had to tech atoms to kindergarteners,” she says. “If you can explain something to a kindergartener, you can explain it to anybody.”

In 2015 she co-founded Catlilli Games, a company that designs STEM-focused board games for children.

“Games are really the most effective way of learning,” she says.

Dr. Croft uses the board games, labs and other creative, visual activities in her classes at FHS.

“That’s really why I’m a teacher — because I had really terrible teachers and I only got into science by accident,” Dr. Croft says. “I thought: Look at all the students who are missing out because it’s not being taught in a hands-on fashion.”

FHS senior Kayla Pavlock says: “She personalizes the way she explains things so each student can understand to the best of their ability. She’s easy to talk to. You know she’s really smart, but not in the way that it’s intimidating.”

After Dr. Croft served on a subject area advisory board for Fauquier County Public Schools, former science supervisor Pam Pulver suggested she become a long-term substitute teacher, which led to her new career.

“Catherine is nurturing and extremely generous with her students, bringing treats for them, and spending her own money on materials to bring science alive for her classes,” says teaching colleague Liz Monseur, who coaches the academic team with Dr. Croft.

“Her passion for science is infectious,” Ms. Monseur adds. “She is the queen of creativity, in my book.”

While working as a government researcher, Dr. Croft earned about $70,000 a year. As a teacher, she makes about $49,000.

“I can’t really afford to be a teacher, but it’s my passion,” she says. “I love it and can't image not doing it.”

Dr. Croft enjoys teaching students how to think critically, solve problems and brainstorm outside the box.

“This is the hardest job I’ve ever had,” she says. “People don’t realize how hard teachers work or how hard it is to break things down so kids really understand it.”

Contact Cassandra Brown at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 540-878-6007.

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Stacie Griffin · March 6, 2019 at 12:00 pm
Thank you Dr. Croft for bringing your passion and dedication to Fauquier County public schools and for making such a huge impact on the students. We are so lucky to have you in our community!
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