By Audrey Fusillo, staff writer

NOVEMBER 2022 — Joel Mabey has begun his first teaching job as the ninth-grade Integrated Mathematics instructor at Bio-Med Science Academy. With a double major in mathematics and programming, Mabey always kept teaching in the back of his mind as a career option. 

Pictured above is Joel Mabey (left) and Emily Mabey (right) on their wedding day. They got married in June 2022. Photo provided by Joel Mabey.

Born in North Carolina, Mabey grew up with his two younger siblings, Clark and Elsa, under the care of a preschool director mother and an MIT graduate father who specialized in math and business analytics.

His father’s career kept his family mobile. The Mabey family moved when he was two years old to Pittsburgh, PA, for a business opportunity. This is where Mabey unearthed his love for nature and adventure.

“Back in our Pittsburgh house, we had a pretty good amount of woods in our backyard. So I spent a lot of that time just exploring our woods,” Mabey shared. “There’s just something very pure and beautiful about nature.”

Around that same time, he also found that he was very reliable when it came to math.

“In grade school, I always excelled at math, and it came naturally to me — maybe just that analytical style of thinking,” he said.

In 2011, when he was a junior in high school, Mabey moved with his family to Solon, Ohio. He joined track and cross country at that time, and he is still running to this day. He graduated high school in 2013.

Mabey received a full-ride scholarship for presidential fellowship during the same year, attending Bucknell University in Lewisburg, PA.

He earned his undergraduate degree in both math and computer science in 2017. He then enrolled in a PhD program in 2018, focusing on theoretical computer science. He didn’t realize he wanted to be a teacher until after completing his time in higher education.

“I wasn’t finding a lot of meaning in the work that I was doing. I felt like maybe I wanted to pursue a different option for what I wanted to do with my life — a more meaningful path that I could commit my life to,” Mabey said.

After attending his PhD program for one year, Mabey left without completing the program. He decided to look for something that could allow him to think about what he wanted to do with his life.

As a result, he found a conservation program based in Flagstaff, AZ, and the program drew him in.

“There’s something there, contrasting the PhD computer science program where you’re spending every day inside on a computer. Maybe some desire to have that connection to the outside and nature,” he said.

Through the American Conservation Experience (ACE), Mabey worked on projects all throughout the Southwest, traveling to worksites in backcountry wilderness where they worked in areas, such as the Grand Canyon and the Petrified Forest.

Above is a photo of the Cottonwood Canyon project Mabey worked on in Arizona. This was the final product in October 2019; the staircase is still up for use today. Picture provided by Joel Mabey.

He explained, “You go out for eight days, and during the [eight day] period, you bring food and everything you need. You camp out close to the work site and hike out every day while bringing out the tools you need. On the off days, they’d just have housing we’d stay at in Flagstaff.”

Mabey participated in activities that allowed the areas to be preserved and protected to let the ecosystem thrive.

“It was really just environmental protection work that benefitted both us and nature,” Mabey said.

All the projects he worked on were different. Mabey worked on thinning projects (cutting down trees for fire prevention), treating invasive species, using herbicide to control what plants grow where, and building trail systems.

His most memorable project was in Cottonwood Canyon. Located on the Arizona National Scenic Trail, Mabey and his peers built a rock staircase in three different project cycles.

Pictured above is an image of Pluto, the Mabeys’ oldest cat at only a year old. A family friend found Pluto under a porch when he was six weeks old. Emily and Joel immediately decidedto take him under their wing. Photo provided by Joel Mabey.

“The idea behind it was to allow people to explore and experience nature with provided access,” Mabey explained. “We wanted to build it so it stands up overtime, withstanding the entire monsoon season in Arizona, needing to withstand floods.”

Building with just rocks, they used a type of pulley system to move thousands of pounds of rock, shaping as necessary, and planning a design to work towards with manual labor and teamwork.

“Being outside so much — experiencing the wilderness, and even camping out for days at a time with no cell service  it was such an interesting experience,” Mabey summarized.

During this time, Mabey was able to think about what he wanted to commit his life to.

“Being outdoors and in that environment allowed me to have a deep reflection that I needed to find what path I’d want to pursue,” he added.

In the conservation program, Mabey met Emily, a tree arborist (meaning that she specialized in the care and maintenance of trees) from Kansas City, MO. They both shared the same love for nature, especially hiking, and soon started dating.

Mabey moved back to Ohio in 2019, with Emily by his side, and he decided to go into teaching for the long term.

“For me, it was always something that had been in the back of my mind as something I wanted to do,” Mabey explained. “The driving force behind why I wanted to be a teacher was just how important and how much value I feel education has as a means to the progression of society as a whole. I hope to have a positive impact on the grander scheme of things.”

In Solon, Mabey started working as a long-term substitute teacher at Louis Elementary School, with his roles ranging from being the media specialist to an instructional aid from 2020 to 2021.

Mabey also tutored through an online math tutoring program, Mathnasium, during this time. He even additionally took on the extra role of helping his mother’s preschoolers get outside.

“I’m a big supporter of outdoor education. We should be getting our kids outside,” Mabey added.

Above is a photo of Mabey’s other cat, Sophie, in a cuddly state. Emily and Joel found her at foster care and took her in, living in their apartment alongside Pluto. Photo provided by Joel Mabey.

He then enrolled in a one-year Master of Arts and Teaching (MAT) program in 2021 at Kent State University. Already having a bachelor’s in math, Mabey just needed the education coursework it took to teach.

Mabey completed his student teaching at Revere High School, teaching geometry, until he graduated with a teaching license in Spring 2022.

While attending Kent State, Mabey was introduced to Bio-Med and eventually interviewed with the Chief of Administrative officer, Stephanie Lammlein, for the ninth-grade programming position. In the end, he decided against taking them up on instructing this subject. For his first year of teaching, he wanted to instruct a math course.

“For me, teaching math is mostly about helping students gain problem solving skills as well as the analytical science of thinking,” Mabey stated.

Not long after, a ninth-grade math teacher opening was advertised, and he was immediately  asked to participate in a quick interview. When the job was offered to him, he accepted.

Mabey’s current challenge is to adjust to the “Bio-Med way” of teaching things.

“Pretty much every math course I’ve ever had has been taught in the same style: a traditional style. I’ve only ever learned it that way. When you’ve only been modeled in one particular way, it can be challenging to branch out and teach it using different methods,” Mabey said.

As a teacher, he’s also created personal expectations for himself.

Mabey said, “My greatest aspiration as a teacher is to help my students have positive outcomes in their future, applying learning skills to reason through problems to succeed in the path of their choosing.”

Aside from teaching, Mabey hasn’t let his love for nature, or other things, die out.

The tree arborist that Mabey met in Arizona became a constant in his life. Joel married Emily earlier this year in June. The Mabeys have two kitten cats, Pluto and Sophie. The newlyweds continue to enjoy hiking and kayaking frequently together, traveling to see the wonders of the world.

“Our favorite national parks we’ve gotten to visit were the ones in Utah, so like Zion, Arches, Bryce, Canyonlands, and that whole group,” Mabey said.

Mabey hopes to be able to visit all of the national parks eventually with Emily, aiming to start a family and improve as a teacher with experience.

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