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Sondra Akins

Education professor and chemist Sondra Akins was born on March 16, 1944 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She became interested in chemistry by the time she graduated from Atkins High School in 1962. Akins earned her B.S. degree in chemistry in 1967 from the University of California, Berkeley where she also worked as a laboratory technician. She received her M.S. degree in chemistry with a minor in higher education from Florida State University in 1970.

After earning her master's degree, Akins taught physical science at Greco Junior High School in Tampa, Florida. Between 1971 and 1974, she served as instructor of chemistry at St. Petersburg Junior College which is currently known as St. Petersburg College. She left St. Petersburg in 1974 to teach at Hillsborough Community College where she rose to the rank of associate professor. In 1978, she taught at Northern Virginia Community College, and in 1980, Akins worked as an honors physics teacher in Lexington Massachusetts Public Schools. She also spent two years as an industrial hygienist at Hewlett Packard, Co. from 1981 to 1983. Akins began her long career with the Englewood Public School District in Englewood, New Jersey in 1983 where she started as a science and mathematics teacher. In 1988, she became the director of mathematics, science, and technology. In 1993, she received her Ed.D. degree in science education from Columbia University. She returned to teaching at Englewood Public Schools between 1995 and 1997 and served as a high school principal for one year in 1997. From 1998 to 2001, Akins was a staff developer for Englewood Public Schools where she served as a mentor, giving advice to teachers. Since 2001, Akins has worked as a professor in the Department of Secondary and Middle School Education at William Paterson University. She has written numerous essays on science education including a chapter in the National Science Teachers Association book, Exemplary Science: Best Practices in Professional Development.

Over her long career in science education, Akins has been recognized many times by her community including the Award for Dedication to Science Teaching from Sigma Xi of Ramapo College. She has been a member of the American Chemical Society, the National Science Teachers Association and the Association of Science Teacher Educators. Sondra Akins lives with her husband Daniel Akins, a chemist, in Teaneck, New Jersey.

Sondra Akins was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on May 15, 2012.

Accession Number

A2012.108

Sex

Female

Interview Date

5/15/2012

Last Name

Akins

Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

Barber

Schools

University of California, Berkeley

Brandeis University

Teachers College, Columbia University

Florida State University

Atkins High School

Howard University

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Sondra

Birth City, State, Country

Winston-Salem

HM ID

AKI02

Favorite Season

Fall

State

North Carolina

Favorite Vacation Destination

Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Favorite Quote

Keep an open mind.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New Jersey

Interview Description
Birth Date

3/16/1944

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Englewood

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Cake (Strawberry Shortcake)

Short Description

Education professor and chemist Sondra Akins (1944 - ) was an authority in the field of science education with over thirty-nine years of professional teaching and consulting experience.

Employment

William Paterson University

Englewood Public Schools

Hewlett Packard Co.

Northern Virginia Community College

Hillsborough Community College

St. Petersburg Jr. College

Greco Jr. High School

Favorite Color

Green

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Sondra Akins' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Sondra Akins lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Sondra Akins describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Sondra Akins describes her mother's growing up in Greensboro, North Carolina

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Sondra Akins talks about the Mary Potter School in Oxford, North Carolina

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Sondra Akins talks about her mother's desire to have a long-lasting marriage and family-life

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Sondra Akins describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Sondra Akins talks about how her parents met, and describes their long marriage and employment at Winston-Salem Teachers College

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Sondra Akins lists her siblings, and talks about her name

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Sondra Akins describes her parents' personalities and who she takes after, and talks about them being her role models

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Sondra Akins describes her childhood home and her close-knit family

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Sondra Akins talks about her childhood neighborhood in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Sondra Akins describes the sights, sounds and smells of growing up in Winston-Salem, North Carolina - part one

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Sondra Akins describes the sights, sounds and smells of growing up in Winston-Salem, North Carolina - part two

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Sondra Akins describes her childhood experience on the Winston-Salem Teachers College campus

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Sondra Akins talks about the towns of Winston and Salem, North Carolina

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Sondra Akins talks about segregation in Winston-Salem, North Carolina in the mid-1900s

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Sondra Akins talks about segregation in the public school system in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and describes her experience in elementary school

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Sondra Akins talks about the influence of Zion Memorial Church on her awareness of the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Sondra Akins talks about her introduction to television in the 1950s, and her interest in science programs and talent shows

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Sondra Akins describes her experience with science experiments in the eighth grade

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Sondra Akins talks about her family's travels when she was growing up

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Sondra Akins talks about the demographics of Winston-Salem Teachers College, and the schools for African American students in Winston-Salem

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Sondra Akins describes her academic excellence, her extracurricular involvement, and her interest in science at Atkins High School

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Sondra Akins talks about her role model, Togo West, Jr. and her scientific mentor, Togo West, Sr., at Atkins High School

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Sondra Akins describes her experience with the integration of her high school advanced placement chemistry class in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Sondra Akins talks about her decision to pursue chemistry as her major in college

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Sondra Akins describes her decision to attend Howard University for her undergraduate studies

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Sondra Akins recalls the Civil Rights sit-ins at the Woolworth's store in Greensboro, North Carolina, which led to its desegregation in 1960

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Sondra Akins describes her early experience studying chemistry at Howard University

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Sondra Akins describes her experience studying science at Howard University, and her love for science

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Sondra Akins describes the 'black is beautiful' cultural movement in the United States in the early 1960s

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Sondra Akins talks about the advent of the space age in the 1950s and 1960s

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Sondra Akins talks about her exposure to black history and culture at Howard University

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Sondra Akins talks about her decision to pursue research, and not go to medical school

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Sondra Akins talks about getting married to HistoryMaker Daniel Akins, withdrawing from Howard University, and moving to Berkeley, California

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Sondra Akins describes her experience at the University of California, Berkeley in the 1960s

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Sondra Akins talks about becoming a parent while pursuing her undergraduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Sondra Akins describes her and her husband's relationship with their advisor, C. Bradley Moore, at the University of California, Berkeley

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Sondra Akins talks about her employment as a lab technician at the University of California, Berkeley

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Sondra Akins talks about the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Black Panther Party's presence in the San Francisco Bay area in the late 1960s

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Sondra Akins talks about her family's move to Florida State University in 1968 and their experience there

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Sondra Akins talks about her interest in physical chemistry, and the growing interdisciplinary nature of science

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Sondra Akins describes her different experiences as an undergraduate at UC Berkeley and as a graduate student at Florida State University

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Sondra Akins talks about her role model, Lidia Vallerino, and other women who are scientists

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Sondra Akins talks about her decision to become a physical science teacher at Greco Junior High School in Tampa, Florida

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Sondra Akins describes her experience as a physical science teacher at Greco Junior High School in Tampa, Florida

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Sondra Akins reflects upon the diverse styles of learning and teaching in the classroom

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Sondra Akins talks about her decision to move from St. Petersburg Junior College to Hillsborough Community College

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Sondra Akins talks about balancing her family life and her career

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Sondra Akins talks about her experience as a science teacher at Northern Virginia Community College and at Lexington High School

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Sondra Akins talks about her decision to discontinue her graduate studies and become an industrial hygienist at Hewlett-Packard Corporation

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Sondra Akins describes her experience as an industrial hygienist at Hewlett-Packard Corporation in Waltham, Massachusetts

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Sondra Akins describes her experience as a teacher at Dwight Morrow High School and her decision to pursue a degree in science education

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Sondra Akins describes her doctoral dissertation on restructuring the math and science curriculum, with a focus on elementary school - part one

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Sondra Akins describes the importance of teaching students to think scientifically in their early childhood education

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Sondra Akins describes her doctoral dissertation on restructuring the math and science curriculum, with a focus on elementary school - part two

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Sondra Akins describes the findings of her doctoral dissertation on restructuring the math and science curriculum in elementary school education

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Sondra Akins talks about her involvement in professional development programs for the teachers in the Englewood School District

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Sondra Akins talks about the African American Educational Center of Northern New Jersey

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Sondra Akins describes her professional activities in the Englewood School District

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Sondra Akins reflects upon the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Sondra Akins describes her experience as a professor of science education at The William Patterson University of New Jersey

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Sondra Akins talks about her article entitled 'Exemplary Science: Best Practices in Professional Development'

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Sondra Akins discusses the balance between inquiry and discipline as part of the process of learning

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Sondra Akins describes her involvement with the New York African Burial Ground Project General Audience Report at Howard University

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Sondra Akins describes the history of the New York African Burial Ground Project and her involvement with the General Audience Report

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Sondra Akins describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community today - part one

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Sondra Akins describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community today - part two

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Sondra Akins talks about her plans to write a book about her experience with learning and teaching science

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Sondra Akins reflects upon her life

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Sondra Akins reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Sondra Akins talks about her family

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Sondra Akins reflects upon the significance of teaching and science

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - Sondra Akins talks about how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 9 Story: 5 - Sondra Akins describes her photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$8

DAStory

6$4

DATitle
Sondra Akins describes her experience with the integration of her high school advanced placement chemistry class in Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Sondra Akins describes the history of the New York African Burial Ground Project and her involvement with the General Audience Report
Transcript
Now, how did that work? Did they segregate you after you got over there [white high school in Winston-Salem, North Carolina]?$$No, no, no, no. All of a sudden, twelfth grade, I had to be ready to go and hold my own in a class with white students. That was an experience. There was one girl from the school who took biology, advanced biology, while I took chemistry. So we practically went hand-in-hand because, you know, actually, our fathers [Akins' father, Alexander Eugene Barber] drove us there, kind of--it gave us moral support. And then the bus would bring us back. And we would stay, I guess maybe an hour and a half, then come back to our own high school [Atkins High School, Winston-Salem].$$So, but you weren't, you were allowed to participate? There's no--$$In twelfth grade.$$--no problems at the school?$$Nothing like what I had, had been afraid of because, as I mentioned before, I had seen actually on television the little, Little Rock [Arkansas] Nine [a group of African American students enrolled in Little Rock Central High School in 1957]. And I knew it was coming, as I said, from the time I was in maybe sixth or seventh grade, that I was gonna have to go to school (laughter) with white kids, you know. So I was anticipating, I didn't know what to anticipate, but it was very civil. As it turned out, the class had only six or seven students in it, and they came from the other high--, the white high schools. And it was held at Reynolds [High School]. So they must have had one or two kids who went to Reynolds, and a couple who went to Gray [High School]. And then there was Sondra Barber who came over from Atkins (laughter) High School and very cordial. Nevertheless, it was not easy.$$Okay, so this is Reynolds High School, named after R.J. Reynolds [tobacco industrialist]--$$After R.J. Reynolds.$$--Tobacco thing. Okay. So, now, this is interesting because, you know, there are so many stories that are still to unfold in the South where there's like big conflict when a black student comes to the door, and then later on, even in the North, the bussing--$$Oh, yes. Well, I--$$--crisis in the '70s [1970s] where even--$$Right.$$--the breaking of defacto segregation caused violence.$$Um-hum, now, it turns out there had been a black girl at Reynolds, and she was there. We knew she was there. That was like the token. I'm sure it was, it couldn't have been easy for her, but we didn't hear horror stories. We didn't hear horror stories. I'm sure she went through something. When I went, it was a, it was not so publicized. After all, it was just an advanced placement [AP] class. It wasn't all day, real desegregation. So, but I can remember walking in there, and students staring just like a sea of white children or students, and they were staring, but nobody said anything out of, out of the way. Nobody said anything. I remember the teachers' names, Dr. Hounshell (ph.) and Mr. Gerald (ph.). There were two teachers. And we would have our class and our lab all together in the same place, and they would have coffee at the--you know, it was quite interesting, but nevertheless, it was not easy because I felt different. I mean I was in a place different from what I was used to, and I felt self-conscious. But, no, there was, I cannot speak of any negative comments or anything like that. We worked with partners. I remember the girl I worked with. She was very nice, very quiet (laughter). I remember we went on a field trip. We must have gone to Raleigh [North Carolina]. I don't believe it was Chapel Hill [North Carolina], to the state university [North Carolina State University]. And then we kind of hung together because we were these little, we were these young kids with, in the midst of these college students. And I felt like I belonged to them (laughter) at that time, you know, because we were on that field trip.$$Okay, so, but you did all right?$$Yeah.$$Did you? Okay.$$Yes.$$All right.$$I did all right, and I did all--and the reason is because of, well, it's just the nurturing of the community that I came up in. You know, everybody was concerned that I would do all right. When I came back to my school, my physics teacher asked, "Well, how are things going? How's Dr. Hounshell?" Somehow he knew of him. He must have been talking to him.$It [New York African Burial Ground Project General Audience Report] tells how when they were digging for the building, how the bones were discovered and what had to happen as a result of that and how the community got involved, how the community wanted to know certain things about the people who were buried and a researcher listened to them. And then, of course, there are different parts. Now, the original research covers the skeletal biology. So they were looking at the diseases that they obviously had based on what they learned about the--$$I think the first thing they'd probably wanna know is how do we know they're Africans, right?$$Well, there is, there is history about that burial ground and when it, when it first--I can't, I don't wanna say when it first. But the report tells, it puts it all in a historical perspective of the company, the, what do you wanna, is it the Manhattan? No, they don't call it Manhattan. I'm trying to think of the Dutch, the Dutch settled the--$$Right, the Dutch West India Company.$$Yes, yes, they settled the area, and what was going on in history. And there are some records they found of this burial ground. So--$$And then what you were saying, you were just saying the, you know, conditions, I mean under which the people died--$$Exactly.$$--what their physical condition was.$$Right, and then there was some study, and I don't wanna try to quote everything because there's so much. The people who came over after--how do I wanna put it? For those who were born and brought over, that they have some of the same kinds of diseases that people who had been living under the conditions of slavery and were already here. They somehow looked at that as well, but I--and I will do this. I'm gonna go back and re-read everything because I plan to make that a unit (laughter). We do a lot of unit, unit work in my methods class, one of my methods classes, where I get the students to develop a unit and develop lessons where they embed these standards that we want in those lessons. And what I do with my middle school and secondary students, different from the elementary where they only do lessons, I get the students to develop their units collaboratively so that it is ensured that it is interdisciplinary and that it has different perspectives, and they're working together, like teachers, like the teachers that I worked with in the [Englewood] school district [New Jersey] in restructuring. That's the way they worked. They worked collaboratively. So I brought that into my courses at William Patterson [University, The William Patterson University of New Jersey, Wayne, New Jersey], that the science methods students, some of them, would work collaboratively on curriculum and bounce ideas off each other and ensure that they're looking at, you know, chemistry and biology and earth science, all in the same unit. And some are pathology majors, some are chemistry majors, some are earth science majors, it works nicely that way. So those are some of the new ideas in professional development that I've been pushing since I've been at William Patterson.$$Okay, now, just on the African Burial Project, I think it was Dr. Rick Kittles [geneticist] was important in that. He was a scientist at Howard [University, Washington, District of Columbia]. Did you have a chance to meet him?$$No, no. Now, the thing that's probably, I don't wanna say disappointing. I didn't get a chance to work with, and I don't wanna say I didn't get a chance, they didn't give me a chance. It's just the way when I got involved and how much time there was before this general report had to be done, I was, I talked with a writer, the Howard writer who really didn't write the book either, but she's a writer. And Dean [James] Donaldson, who is also a HistoryMaker, and Oscar Cole (ph.) who was a special assistant to the president, and who was in charge of the project, those were the people that I interacted with and gave my recommendations to. And as I said, when the drafts came back, I read and I made recommendations along with other people who were also reading the draft.$$Okay.