Waipahu High School science teacher Michael Sana’s path to his professional teaching career began during his own high school years with a promise to his mother as she battled cancer. She promised him that she would hang on until his graduation if he promised that he would someday finish college and make a difference in the lives of others. Both kept their promises.
Today, Sana received a tremendous surprise when he was presented the prestigious Milken Educator Award at a school-wide assembly to the applause of his students and fellow teachers. Regarded as the "Oscar Award of Teaching," it honors outstanding excellence in education and comes with an unrestricted $25,000 cash prize.
"Michael’s passion for teaching and mentoring has helped dozens of students begin their college careers with a desire for rigorous scientific research," said Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi. “His hard work has helped to make Waipahu High’s science curriculum a bright spot in the department and we’re grateful for all he does to support other teachers. This prestigious recognition is well-deserved."
Governor David Ige, First Lady Dawn Amano-Ige and Superintendent Matayoshi, joined Dr. Jane Foley, Senior Vice-President of the Milken Educator Awards, and more than 20 former Milken Hawaii awardees to make the surprise presentation in front of nearly 2,500 Marauder students, teachers and guests.
Sana’s excellent work as Chair of the Waipahu High science department has helped to transform its science program into an ambitious college-ready platform that challenges students and boosts them towards college science careers.
“When Michael first started teaching AP Biology, there were only 12 students enrolled; now there are over 50, over 40 in Medical Biotechnology, and many of his students have gone on to receive college scholarships based on their science work,” said Principal Keith Hayashi.
"He guides his students to conduct genuine scientific research that has led to 120 publications with the National Institutes of Health.”
In 2007, Sana was accepted into the prestigious Lawrence Livermore Teacher Research Academy, where he completed hands-on skill and knowledge development programs and has also conducted cutting-edge Level-4 research and experiments with the bubonic plague. His work has enabled his students to gain real-world experience at leading science facilities such as the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Rutgers University’s Waksman Institute of Microbiology. Sana received a commitment from the Academy to mentor six of his fellow teachers at Waipahu High and to partner with students for real-time video-conferencing for projects. He also secured several federal grants to further support the science department.
After winning the teaching award, Sana addressed the students emphasizing that through education, anything is possible. It is a message that inspires his students.
"Mr. Sana is my coach and teacher. He not only teaches biology and medical biotech, he also teaches life lessons. He shows us how to persevere through life because he's been through that kind of struggle," said Jeminae Solomua, student at Waipahu High School. "I appreciate him for that."
Sana is a graduate of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in biology, a post-baccalaureate degree in secondary education and a master’s degree in curriculum studies. He has received 14 education awards over the last ten years from public and private organizations, including the Hawaii State Teachers Association, Bishop Museum, the Society of American Military Engineers, Chevron Hawaii and the National Science Teachers Association.
The Milken Educator Awards program, which was launched by the Milken Family Foundation (MFF) in 1987, has been described as “the Oscars of teaching”by Teacher magazine. Hawaii joined the Milken Educator Awards program in 1990 and since that time, 73 Hawaii recipients have received awards along with a total of $1,825,000 in prize monies. For more information, visit www.mff.org.