Elusive plants, tundra treks, and the quests that made Mr. Meyers

Elusive plants, tundra treks, and the quests that made Mr. Meyers

Photo courtesy of Zachary Meyers

Anna Arnsberger

Hallucinating, with disheveled hair and scratches from head-to-toe, Zachary Meyers looked like he had been attacked by a bear. After days of hiking through the Alaskan wilderness, Meyers returned from his expedition and promptly took a two-day nap. He had been searching for the rare endemic pea plant Oxytropis kokrinensis, but only knew the general area of the plant’s whereabouts. Under a strict time crunch, Meyers and his volunteer partner did not stop moving until the plant was found—36 hours after they began the hunt.

Though he now teaches Honors Physics and Essentials of Engineering at Wilson, Meyers spent the beginning of his career as a scientist in Alaska. He took part in a wide range of fieldwork in regions all throughout the state, including Nome, Anchorage, and Kodiak. Employed by the government as a field botanist, Meyers tracked climate change through plant evolution and migration. He also explored geospatial engineering, in one instance teaming up with Google to map the Iditarod sled dog race. 

While Meyers spent significant time exploring the Alaskan wilderness, much of his job involved interaction with locals. He introduced GPS technology to village children so they could find useful fishing spots. These lessons, which were some of the first experiences Meyers had with teaching, integrated modern technology with the locals’ pre-existing geographical awareness. 

Meyers didn’t formally work in education until he moved to DC and went through a certification program to become a teacher. The program provided much-needed preparation for instruction in settings more urban than Meyers was used to. “I already had the content mastery, but the delivery and pedagogy was really different,” Meyers said. After receiving certification, he taught at Ballou High School for five years before coming to Wilson last year. 

Meyers has adapted to teach in a way that fits best for DC classrooms, which are remarkably different from those in Alaska. He notices a high level of competition at Wilson, where students’ physical survival is not their highest priority. “In Alaska, there’s a more of a community because it’s smaller and you’re always competing against the weather. So people are always trying to help each other out, versus here, just always trying to stand out in the crowd,” Meyers said. While slow-tempo teaching was once the norm for Meyers, shifts in cultural customs have required him to speed up his talking to keep students engaged.  

Student involvement is key for Meyers, who wants to improve the physics curriculum to ensure that its content resonates with his students. Heeding the honors status of his physics class, Meyers is working to increase the course’s difficulty. “There’s a little bit of pushback because of that, but I still think that there can be a balance of rigor with engagement,” he said. 

Meyers has the exciting science classes from when he was a student to thank for inspiring his current position as a teacher. “I was really intimidated by physics when I took it as a high schooler and as an undergrad but I had really good teachers that were really crazy and they did lots of hands-on activities,” he said. 

Just as his past mentors did, Meyers hopes to encourage students to broaden their thinking and curiosity.  While he only teaches physics and engineering, he is fascinated by outer space, evolution, and climate change. “I really like science that breaks and shatters our perception of how we interact with the world and how we perceive our world,” Meyers said. 

Meyers has always loved science. He devoted his childhood to the outdoors of Vermont and New York, where he traveled through the Adirondacks and Lake Champlain. This urge for adventure was what took Meyers to the University of Alaska Fairbanks and propelled his career as a scientist.

Meyers continues to enjoy nature by hiking and cycling, but one of his main hobbies is floorball. A Nordic sport akin to floor hockey, Meyers picked up the game in college and quickly caught on. He played competitively, once traveling to Sweden for an international tournament. While he is still looking for floorball groups in DC, Meyers will meet up with his friends from Alaska for an occasional tournament. “We’re really bad cause we’re really old now,” Meyers claimed, but he enjoys reminiscing about his past in Alaska with old friends that live far apart.