When Noreen Syed '10 began McGill University in the fall of 2010, she saw it as the first step en route to becoming a pediatrician. Pediatrics would bring together two of the things she loved: science and working with children. Because Syed also loved literature—an interest she traces back to her ninth grade English classes at GSB—she took the unusual step of majoring in English and minoring in biochemistry. She reasoned that eventually her love of reading would have to take a backseat to the rigors of medical school, residency, and the first years of practice. Until such time, however, she was determined to cultivate it. In keeping with her goal of becoming a pediatrician, Syed also worked as a research assistant in a molecular biology lab and volunteered at a children’s hospital in Montreal throughout her college career.
When asked how she adjusted to McGill, an urban university with an undergraduate population of more than 20,000, after having been at GSB, Syed offered "I loved the small and nurturing classes at GSB and the way each teacher took such a personal interest in my academic progress and my overall wellbeing." She added, "When I got to McGill, I had freshman courses with over 1,000 students in them. The school would broadcast professors' lectures into overflow rooms to accommodate all of us. It could not have been less like GSB in that respect. Interestingly, though, I didn’t struggle at all with the transition. At GSB, the teachers helped me grow in confidence. They made me feel good about my abilities and about the contribution I had to make. I left GSB feeling ready to navigate any environment." Syed also notes that courses in Comparative World Cultures and the unit program made her want to travel and experience other cultures, so the idea of attending school in Canada appealed to her.
Her senior year at McGill, Syed was admitted into a graduate program in biological sciences at Columbia University, something she described as "my dream program." Her plan was to complete graduate school and then attend medical school. While at Columbia, she continued to work with young people, this time teaching health classes to teenagers in Harlem through a university-sponsored program. The more she worked with the teenagers, the more she felt herself drawn to teaching. While it was difficult to walk away from a prestigious graduate program and a well-established career track, Syed began exploring the possibility of teaching science. She took a semester off from Columbia and applied to Teach for America. During that time, a Middle School science position also opened up at Gill. Although the position had already been filled by the time the school received her materials, Middle School Director Kyle Armstrong wanted to interview her anyway. After talking with Syed, Armstrong suggested that she could explore a career in teaching by filling in as a substitute. Syed took Armstrong’s advice, and within a few weeks, she was in the classroom almost every day. "I loved it," she says. "I started to feel the tangibility of what a teacher’s job really entails. The more I learned about it, the more I knew it was the right choice for me," she adds.
Over the summer, Syed continued her work at GSB through the Hi-Hills Summer Camp. She served as a counselor and collaborated with the Communications Office on the Hi-Hills weekly newsletter. In the fall of 2015, she began as a full-time Middle School teacher at Gill. Her primary responsibility is fifth grade science, but she also teaches a section of Upper School English, a perfect outlet for her love of literature. Two of Syed’s mentors from her student days, Middle School science teacher Teri Cosentino and English Department Chair Andrew Lutz, now mentor her as a teacher. "They are incredible," she offers. "Teri is a visionary who is teaching me how to teach, and I couldn’t ask for a better mentor than Andy. It is the best career change I could have asked for. I am here for the long haul."
When asked if there is anything she doesn’t like about being a teacher at Gill, she says simply, "Fridays." Syed adds, smiling, "Two days is a long time to be away from the classroom and the students. I love it that much."