This year’s recipients of the Princeton Prize for Distinguished Secondary School Teaching are Wahab Ashraf of Science Park High School in Newark, Bob Fenster of Hillsborough High School, Maria Maloupis of Lyndhurst Middle School, and Nancy Picinic Ricca of Pascack Valley High School. They each will receive $5,000, as well as $3,000 for their school libraries.
“These four prize winners represent the incredible work that is taking place in our nation’s schools,” said Todd Kent, director of Princeton’s Program in Teacher Preparation. “These amazing individuals remind us all that great teachers have the power to change lives and lift communities.”
The selection committee, in reviewing the applications, considers recommendations from colleagues and students as well as evidence of the teachers’ accomplishments in the school and the community.
The 10 finalists were selected by the Program in Teacher Preparation staff and visited at their schools by Rosanne Zeppieri, a member of the program staff. The four winners were then selected by a committee chaired by Elizabeth Colagiuri, deputy dean of the college, that also includes Kent; Stanley Katz, a lecturer with the rank of professor in public and international affairs at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs; and William Miron, principal of Millburn High School in New Jersey and a 1978 Princeton University graduate.
“This marks the 65th year that Princeton University has received nominations to recognize four of New Jersey’s outstanding schoolteachers at Commencement,” Colagiuri said. “I must say that the recipients have each demonstrated extraordinary skill in the classroom, profound dedication to improving the lives of their students, and significant track records of service to their schools and communities. Their work is nothing short of inspirational.”
Princeton has honored secondary school teachers since 1959 after receiving an anonymous gift from an alumnus to establish the program.
About Mr. Ashraf
Wahab Ashraf teaches College Prep and Advanced Placement biology at Science Park High School, a magnet school for students in the Newark School District interested in pursuing STEM careers.
A colleague said Ashraf, who has taught at the school for eight years, sets the bar high for his students. “Mr. Ashraf’s AP Biology students will consistently score 4s and 5s on the AP exam, as a direct result of his instruction,” the colleague said. “It is clear that Mr. Ashraf not only pushes his students to greatness, but also genuinely cares about them as human beings.”
Principal Darleen Gearhart said Ashraf’s lessons are “phenomena-driven, inquiry based and require high cognitive demand from students,” adding, “his classroom and students are filled with the pure joy of learning, so much so that alumni always return as a demonstration of the strong rapport that he builds with each student.”
Students enjoy Ashraf’s classroom atmosphere, which they characterize as fun, engaging and hands-on. Many are inspired by his teaching to pursue further studies and careers related to biology. Said a former student: “He was able to take big concepts and create activities that would require us to think like a biologist, but also be creative. Mr. Ashraf has nurtured my love and passion for the sciences, which has led me to explore a career in the healthcare/medical field.”
Ashraf was named his school’s Teacher of the Year in 2017-18 and 2021-22. He also teaches mathematics at Rutgers and New Jersey Institute of Technology, and he received the Rutgers University Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2022.
In the News
- Four outstanding secondary school teachers to be honored at Princeton Commencement
By: Denise Valenti, Office of Communications