In Memory

In Memory of our Board Member, Dr. Joseph Immel

joe

Dr. Joseph Immel was a science teacher at Technology High School.  Dr. Immel was one of those rare and exceptional science educators who was deeply loved by his students and widely respected by his peers and community.  He developed new biotechnology and engineering courses that helped to drastically increase student enrollment and placement.  His innovative and dedicated approach to science education led him to win the Science Magazine Prize for Inquiry-Based Instruction in 2013.

Dr. Immel first got interested in science when he was in junior high, and as a future educator, he would look back at the experience and realize that young students are more capable than is often believed.  He went on to earn degrees in biology at the University of California, including a PhD in neurobiology at the University of California in Santa Barbara.  He worked as a professional scientist, then as an engineer.  He and his wife, Barbara Kephart Immel, then started a consulting firm for the biotechnology, medical device and pharmaceutical industries.

At age 50, Dr. Immel earned a teaching credential, having discovered he really enjoyed volunteering in schools when his own children were small. He took a job at Technology High School, a public alternative school with a project-based, group-oriented curriculum.

He has positively impacted the lives of countless students, many of which spoke at his memorial service about how he changed their lives.  Students, school administration, and family would all be available to attend the Pantheon ceremony or to make a video showcasing the expansive impact that Dr. Immel had on their pursuit of science as a career.

Dr. Immel’s impact went well beyond the classroom, however.  He was deeply involved in supporting science education on a community-wide level.  He served on the Board of Directors of the Bay Area Biotechnology Education Consortium, and volunteered at countless science festivals and community events.  His generous spirit and dedicated work touched the lives of countless individuals and communities.  Joe was universally loved by all of us who had the privilege and pleasure to work with him, and he will be greatly missed.

If you would like to share your thoughts or reflections about Joe, please feel free to email us at babec@babec.org.

Below is a heartwarming testimony from one of the many students whose life was changed by Dr. Immel 

By: M. Davis

My education, from kindergarten to grade six was, if anything, quiet. That’s as descriptive as I may conclude such a statement, for I always pictured normality with stillness. To clarify, as I reflect upon my primary and middle school years, they seem to only blend together, as though their timeline is insignificant in comparison to my experience as a Tech High Titan. However, credit must be given where credit is due, and may I confess, there is indeed a great amount of credit to be given. When I refer to my experience, I find it is more appropriate to associate myself as a student of Dr. Joseph Immel, rather than a student of Technology High School. The moment I stepped through Dr. Immel’s door and into his classroom, was the moment when my education suddenly evolved from child’s play to sophistication. Suddenly, the intensity increased. Suddenly, things became real. Suddenly, everything was loud, and it was prodigious.

I was always considered shy and quiet. In my primary years, my instructors appreciated this, simply because I was one less child they would have to worry about when it came to listening and distracting the class. I may recall one important aspect of grammar school, that we were told to sit and listen, to do what our teachers told us to do, and to respect one another, mainly the authorities. This made sense for such an elementary education, because much was to be learned in such a short amount of time. However, we begin to create our own thoughts and opinions once we reach middle school, and when we discover that our mentors and teachers are spread so thin with so many children to teach, we also find that our education is simply reduced to the bare minimum as a result. Our role as students is to do our homework and sit quietly so we may listen. While this seems to be enough on the surface, we are subjected to the burial of any profound thoughts that may question such teachings or perhaps delude our understanding of the subject entirely. For example, one of my most distinct memories from my time at the junior high was a lecture of sentence structures in seventh grade english. After asking the teacher to explain once more in further detail, she simply replied, “If you don’t understand, then look it up”. Of course, the book she first referred to was where she wanted us to go again. Thus while I attained good marks and scores, I was apathetic when it came to caring in school, and I only stayed silent and did as I was told.

My expectations for Technology High School were if anything, indifferent. Frankly, I believed it was just another high school. My freshman year upheld its standards, as I was given what I was promised; project based learning. The projects were easy, yet fun and intelligible, and while this sparked some interest, I still remained neutral, not knowing where my passions lied within my studies. I now began to enjoy my education, but as my peers recalled on their hopes for the future, I could only smile and nod while feeling stuck, as I had not even an approximate conception of where in the world I would go, nor did I attain the belief that I even could go somewhere.

I first had the honor of meeting Dr. Immel during my freshman year. Of course, the word around our school was that this professional educator was absolutely repulsed by freshman, and held a pure hatred towards them. While I had the pleasure of being introduced to him my eighth year, I cannot say I really met him until the first october of my high school education. He was passionate about the Sonoma County’s science day, a day where upper level classes from schools all around the bay area gathered to create a booth. The overall goal was to create an educational science booth that would attract younger children and, hopefully, ignite an interest in science. Petrified, I continued to explain the general biology behind the strawberry DNA extraction lab to children, ages three and up. As the fair cleared, we had begun to pack up, and as I carried a washbasin full of soapy water to a couple thirsty looking bushes, Immel stopped me in my tracks. “I was very impressed with you today, the way you explained the lab to the children.” he told me. I replied with a thank you, and he concluded our conversation saying, “Good work today.”

The first day in his class was excentric. Never had I received an instructor who made you earn the title of your grade level. According to him, we were still only freshman. The first test to this was to be ready in his class, with your notebook out and open, a and pen resting in its rightful place on the desk. He walked through the classroom, looking towards every student, and muttering “freshman” at them if they had failed to comply. I, however, had been prepared, as my older acquaintances had told me of his prefacing expectations. As he passed me, he beamed down at me with a grin and claimed “Sophomore”.

As the year proceeded, I could only become increasingly enthusiastic with Dr. Immel’s lectures. Each day he provided for us his own energy, relating to his passions on the very topic. The very first day, he climbed atop his desk, stamping his foot and chanting along the various names of bones in the human anatomy. The very last month, of the school year, during the zoology unit, he once again climbed atop his desk, once again stamping his foot along to the taxonomic rankings during our lectures of biological classification. Never will I forget the order, “kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus species.” His knowledge was extremely evident from the beginning of the year, to our very last conversation. Never had I achieved a mentor who put such great amounts of faith, inspiration, and energy into his students. He believed in everyone’s ability, and seemed to always aspire in bringing forth everyone’s potential, whether it was in science or not. He simply took interest in everyone’s talents and capabilities, wherever they may lie.

I will never regret choosing to be in Dr. Immel’s biotechnology and molecular biology class. I’m grateful to have been amongst other students who wished to be there as well. Not only did this provide a shift in attitude, for everyone enjoyed being present for his lectures, but this was when Dr. Immel had shown his truest amounted respect for each individual. The environment overall was outstanding, and day after day we would arrive, ready to listen as he superfluously talked, and astounded us with his intelligence upon each curricular subject. He had high expectations for us, yet he pushed everyone, thus allowing us to meet so with ease. Never would I have believed I would successfully rearrange the DNA sequencing of e coli, to the extent that it may glow bright pink.

His dedication to not only his career, but to each student was impeccable, for it was obvious that he cared for everyone. To many, he was a mentor. To others, he was a paternal figure of sorts. I personally deemed him the brightest mind of anyone I may ever come to meet. His intellectual capacity was undeniably stellar, a most advantageous skill when applied to his teaching. There wasn’t a single question he would leave unanswered, and if he ever came to a question in which he himself was unsure, he spent his night to researching the topic, so he may answer it the very next day. The comprehension of his very knowledge cannot successfully be illustrated simply by descriptions, but if I were to ever believe in a single man’s ability to achieve absolutely anything, I believe that man would be Dr. Immel. To have ever known Dr. Immel as a mentor, and a personal friend, I must consider myself honored and blessed.

Thus, I believe solely, as a student of Dr. Immel’s biology and biotechnology classes, that if anyone may receive recognition for their talents, skills, professionalism, and intellectual capabilities, Dr. Immel is more so than meritorious of such. He alone during his lifetime had accomplished instilling such inspiration and motivation in generations of students, simply in his love of teaching. In his passing, masses of people gathered, wishing to mourn the loss of a man with the very ability to impact the most reserved and quiet of people. Never had I met one who was able not only to welcome the attentive and social students, but was also capable of reaching out and bringing forward the confidence of those too shy to bring it about themselves. He loved and respected every individual he ever met, and for that, there are many today who wish to become successful in his honor.

Dr. Immel once told us of his very own mentor, a man of incredible genius, much like himself. At his own graduation, his mentor arrived after being retired for some time, and told Immel with pride, “Every time one of you succeeds, it puts a gold star on my heart.” After his passing, Immel remarked his distress, as well as his desire to put forth his very best efforts to make his mentor proud. He then told us how he feels the same way, and his excitement to see everyone of us succeed. To this day, I know I may speak for everyone when I conclude, may we all devote the same amount of energy in achieving our goals, and dedicate our successes to a man of great ability. May everyone of his students fulfill their goals, and impact many generations, the same way Dr. Immel impacted us. If any one soul is deserving of great recognition, it is Dr. Immel. May we all put gold stars on his heart, and forever bring about brilliance, a brilliance first ignited by Dr. Immel.       

Rachael WebsterIn Memory