Singlehood Awareness Day: Ms. Quenzer’s Unique Twist to Valentine’s Day

Ms. Quenzer’s Valentine’s Day traditions

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Biology teacher Jessica Quenzer, a New York native, began teaching almost accidentally. While in graduate school to get her PhD, she faced severe funding issues, which caused her to drop out. Quenzer’s Principal Investigator, the head of the laboratory, recommended pursuing a career in teaching after noticing that Quenzer excelled as a teaching assistant for a biology class. Although Quenzer was reluctant to leave her PhD behind, she decided that she would go into education.

Before making her final decision, Quenzer worked at Rockefeller University as a research assistant for a year. “I’ve never regretted it. I am much happier teaching than I am working at the labs all day. I do miss the labs, but I am very happy here,” Quenzer said.

After her job at Rockefeller University, Quenzer began teaching Regents Biology and Health at NEST+m, a selective public K-12 school in Manhattan. Afterward, Quenzer taught at the High School of Economics and Finance (HSEF), another Manhattan public school.

Finally, after teaching at HSEF for four years, Quenzer came to Stuyvesant, where she now teaches Advanced Topics in Biology, a freshman biology research class, and Biology Lab Techniques. Additionally, Quenzer coaches the Science Olympiad and the U.S. Biology Olympiad and is a mentor for Genes in Space and the Urban Barcode Project.

Among her many notable classroom practices is her unique Valentine’s Day lesson: “Around ‘Singlehood Awareness Day,’ I have this lesson in which students are analyzing published articles about the biochemistry behind the emotion of love,” Quenzer explained. Students read articles from both layman newspapers (newspapers for the general public) and scientific journals, such as PNAS and Nature. Quenzer described an important aspect of this lesson: “[The students] can see that a lot of stuff gets sugar-coated or left out in the news for general consumption,” she explained. Frequently, the layman newspapers leave out critical scientific facts such as the number of test subjects were involved, how often the test was repeated, and if there was a sufficient amount of data to back the conclusion.

Quenzer thinks that it is crucial for her students to realize this and look out for this type of information while reading articles in the future. Quenzer ultimately wants her students to learn “how to think,” and feels that this lesson teaches students how to do so, because it helps them come up with creative questions.

The articles Quenzer shares during the Valentine’s Day lesson range from humorous ones about smelly white t-shirts to serious articles about parasites. Describing an article she shares, Quenzer said, “There was this study conducted in which women smelled sweaty white t-shirts worn by men, and the idea was for them to rank who smelled attractive. The scientists would determine whether or not there was any connection between what the women found attractive and the chemistry of this man.” Quenzer also talked about an article relating the effects of birth control to women’s scent perceptions. Essentially, when women are taking birth control, they might consider a certain scent to be attractive, but once they are off the pill, their perception of this scent changes.

Another article she uses is about Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite that infects rodents and makes them undaunted by cats. Although this might seem like a disease unrelated to humans, Toxoplasma gondii makes its way into humans and might even explain attraction to cats. “The parasite moves into cats and people could pick up that parasite while cleaning the litter box,” Quenzer said. “So there could be truth to the crazy cat lady, because the parasite makes rodents like cats a lot, [and] it could make humans like cats a lot too. In rodents, Toxoplasma gondii attacks the hypothalamus, but scientists are still unsure of which part of the brain is affected in humans.” Quenzer’s personal favorite article talks about how being with dogs can increase oxytocin levels. These high oxytocin levels are comparable to the levels between mother and child.

As Quenzer spoke about oxytocin levels, she fondly said, “I have a dog, and she is my blatantly obvious child substitute.” Hopefully, all of us will feel love like Quenzer does toward her dog, Po, this ‘Singlehood Awareness Day.’