Teacher connects kids to sea of possibilities
Though teaching wasn't Andrew "Andy" Wex's original career choice, after 15 years he's about got it down to a science.
"I think what appealed to me about education is I really believe in it," Wex noted. "I believe that societies are measured by the quality of the free education they give their citizens. ... (Education) is a wide range of opportunity."
Wex received his bachelor's degrees in zoology and history from the University of Wisconsin. He originally intended to either use his education to pursue a job with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources or in research.
But after an experience working as a security guard at a middle school, Wex opted to use his knowledge of zoology to teach in what most people liken to a zoo — a high school.
"After being around the kids in the middle school, the vice principal approached me and asked if I'd ever considered education," Wex said. "It turned out to be something I was very interested in. You might say it was a natural fit."
It wasn't long before Wex was pursuing a master's degree in teaching at Lewis and Clark College in Portland.
"I'd always wanted to be a marine biologist, and there was no way I was going to do that sticking around in the landlocked midwest," Wex joked. "I wanted to go west. I had the itch of Manifest Destiny."
After obtaining his degree, Wex taught for one year at a school in Sherwood and one year in Madison, Wis. The past 13 years he has stayed in Sandy, partially, he said, because of the proximity to the Pacific Ocean.
"To have the seas calling me from only a brief hour-and-a-half away is a gift," Wex said.
He uses this proximity to his advantage in teaching his biology and oceanic sciences classes, as well as for his own interests.
Throughout the year, Wex takes groups to destinations like the San Juan Islands, Newport and Astoria to go whale watching, talk to aquarists and pursue other scientific opportunities. He also advises the Aquanauts club, which is an educational group focused on oceanography.
"I try to show (students) all Oregon and Washington have to offer in the realm of career paths they could take," Wex noted. "If they even have the slightest desire to do anything having to do with the ocean, they get a good, comprehensive picture of the opportunities that are out there."
Obviously, Wex enjoys the opportunities to be near the ocean for himself, but he said just teaching students about science — the subject he is so passionate about — and fostering curiosity are rewarding.
"(Teaching) is rewarding," Wex noted. "It's wonderful to both present kids with knowledge they're interested in then watch them take the reins, and you become a facilitator of their discovery. It's like taking a handful of seeds of different species of plants and throwing them into the soil and waiting to see which ones grow."
When Wex isn't teaching, he loves being outdoors. He also volunteers with an operation called Whales of Guerrero in Mexico, which helps the local community expand its eco-tourism in a way that is rejuvenating for the ecosystem.
"I would encourage people to find something that sparks their curiosity and pursue it to its fullest extent," Wex noted.