EDISON — Enzo Paterno of the Edison Academy for Science, Mathematics and Engineering Technologies is one of four New Jersey teachers who received the 2012 Princeton Prize for Distinguished Secondary School Teaching.
Paterno, who teaches electronic and computer engineering at the school, which is part of the Middlesex County Vocational and Technical Schools District, and the other honorees were guests at the Princeton University commencement June 5.
The citation, read by Princeton Provost Christopher L. Eisgruber, recognized Paterno for developing a curriculum at the Edison Academy that “raises the bar by introducing more demanding courses at lower grade levels.”
“He likens teaching to acting,” Eisgruber said. “The stage he sets for his students allows them to play the role of a professional engineer, introducing design reviews, presentations and teamwork. His credo is ‘the survival of the brightest,’ and because of his care for his students, he insures that they not only survive but thrive.”
He was nominated by MCVTS Assistant Superintendent Paul Munz, who formerly was his principal.
“Students are constantly challenged to think critically and to apply all of the academic and technological tools they have at their disposal to solve real-world, practical problems,” Munz said in nominating him.
“I don’t know where he gets his energy,” said his current principal, Linda Russo. “He’s very well deserving of this award. He’s the total package of what you want in a teacher.”
Retired after a 25-year career as an electrical engineer with AT&T and Lucent Technology’s Bell Labs, the 57-year-old entered teaching 11 years ago through the alternate-route program. He also is an adjunct instructor at New Jersey Institute of Technology and Middlesex County College.
“Because I have an industry background, because I teach at college, I know exactly what these students need to be successful,” he said. “We live in very tough economic times and we have a very global economy. In order to survive in this environment, these kids need to be more than just average. I want to differentiate them.”
He is proud that his students have gone on to prestigious colleges such as Oxford, MIT and Ivy League schools and have been successful in getting jobs in engineering and other fields, including medicine and finance. He especially hopes to inspire female students to succeed in engineering and science.
“There’s this myth that electrical engineering and the sciences are not for girls,” he said. “I have a lot of girls in my classes. We are breaking the myth. You just have to give them a chance and show them the right way.”
Paterno, a resident of Millstone Township, is married and has two adult children. His immigrant background mirrors that of many of his students: He was born in France to Italian parents, coming to the United States at the age of 14. He speaks Italian, French, Spanish and English.
He expressed his gratitude to the Princeton Program in Teacher Preparation, which sponsors the annual award for secondary-school teachers in New Jersey, and to the administration, faculty and students of the Edison Academy for their support during the application process, which involved extensive site visits and interviews.
He said one of the extra thrills at the commencement was the chance to congratulate singer Aretha Franklin, who received an honorary doctorate from Princeton.
In addition to Paterno, the other Princeton Prize winners were Dana Maloney of Tenafly High School, Victorina Wasmuth of McNair Academic High School in Jersey City and Daniel Kaplan of Matawan Regional High School.
The Edison Academy, which is on the campus of Middlesex County College, enrolls 160 students who select career majors in electronics and computer engineering technologies or civil and mechanical engineering technologies, while also taking traditional high school classes.