Tater Taught Award-Winning Educator to Love Math, Science

Last Updated on September 13, 2016 at 12:00 AM

Originally published September 21, 2016

By John

UTEP Communications

Raquel Jimenez Kuker’s professional journey started with a spud in elementary school. It was not boiled, broiled, fried, mashed or scalloped; it was used as a battery to power a clock.

That tater energized her curiosity in science and eventually led to her selection as the 2016 Region 19 Secondary Teacher of the Year.

Kuker is a math and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) teacher at Parkland Middle School in the Ysleta Independent School District. She advances to the Texas Teacher of the Year competition Oct. 13 in Austin, Texas.

The teacher, a granddaughter of Mexican immigrants, initially wanted to be an engineer, but caught the teaching bug while working as a math tutor to incoming engineering students at The University of Texas at El Paso. She came up with an equation to decide which path to follow: one engineer could enhance the world, or one teacher could passionately inspire hundreds of other future engineers to go out and do the same. She earned her bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies in 2006.

Kuker has been teaching for 10 years and tries to guide her students – especially minorities and females – to follow their passions in college. She recalled the impact of Carlos Ortega, a lecturer in the Department of Chicano Studies, who instilled in her the importance of cultural diversity and its impact on teaching. As a result, she has created several minority clubs that have earned national recognition in STEM competitions.

“Because of (Ortega), I carried the idea of building my students’ cultural capital,” Kuker said.

Kuker, who grew up in a family that understood sacrifice, raises money to ensure her students have the resources and opportunities that others have around the nation. As a result, many of her former students are engineering majors today at institutions across the country.

She is grateful to UTEP faculty from her time in the colleges of Engineering and Education for the support and guidance they offered her. She strives to do the same for children inside or outside the classroom.

“I strongly believe that every child has a gift, and it’s my mission to help them discover their talents and pursue their goals,” Kuker said.