Blog.Feb 11, 2022

From teacher to student to Stockholm

Teachers are some of the most important and influential people in any person’s life. They are there during a time when we make our first life-defining choices and for years we may see them more than we see our parents. Inspiring, knowledgeable, and passionate teachers are therefore one of the greatest assets in any community. They deserve to be recognized for that.

Zoyia Konstantopoulou from Cyprus was first introduced to scientific research by her high school teacher Christina Aristodimou. She says that the passion and determination with which Ms Aristodimou presented the field was very inspiring. So inspiring in fact, that Konstantopoulou came to participate in the global youth competition Stockholm Junior Water Prize (SJWP) in 2014, and later pursue a career within the scientific field.

“When Christina introduced the idea that we should participate in the competition, I was immediately onboard. We are both very competitive and I think we made a good match. Her support during the preparations and throughout the competition was wonderful. It meant a lot to me,” says Konstantopoulou who is today studying in the UK.

“We are both very competitive and I think we made a good match”

Zoyia Konstantopoulou on her high school teacher Christina Aristodimou.

For Christina Aristodimou it was not the first time that she coached her students to participate in SJWP. For the past several years her students have taken part in the prestigious event, held annually since 1997 with the final taking place during World Water Week in Stockholm. There, during a glamourous and festive event, the overall winner receives the award from the prize’s patron, HRH Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden.

Aristodimou and Konstantopoulou both say that behind every single project entered into the competition lies passion and a lot of hard work. And behind that stands those whose role it is to build interest, educate, guide, and encourage:  the teachers. Aristodimou describes it as being a combination of teacher, mother, and friend, and she says that her reward is seeing the students’ motivation, and the change they go through during the competition process.

“They learn so much, not just about science but about life, they get to meet new friends and contacts, interact with experienced scientists, practice speaking English. And if they are lucky, some get to travel to Stockholm for the final. That is the ultimate reward and an important incentive. It is what makes Stockholm Junior Water Prize so great. I have seen the students who have been to the finals in Stockholm come back as new individuals, much more mature and self-confident. That is my greatest satisfaction in this.

In 2014, Christina decided to travel to the finals in Stockholm at her own expense. Not only to coach Constantopoulou, but also to develop as a teacher.

“It was an amazing opportunity and something I wish all involved teachers got to do. It provided me with lots of inspiration and new ideas that I could bring back to my students in Cyprus, to improve the quality of their education even further. Teaching is about constantly finding new ways to inspire and educate.”

Each year, tens of thousands of students from over 40 countries participate in SJWP, with the national winners qualifying for the final. In 2021, Ecuadorian teacher Maritza Maza, coached her students to participate. Many schools in the country lack laboratory facilities, so Maza saw SJWP as an alternative opportunity to showcase the fascinating world of science.

“You don’t appreciate what you don’t know”

Maritza Maza, teacher in Ecuador

“You don’t appreciate what you don’t know. The world is changing, but how can we be part of that change if we don’t understand what’s going on around us. Good examples and personal experience are key, and for me to teach with love and passion. It is important to me the students develop as people, that they understand their potential and dare to try to fulfil it,” she says.

Kiara Peralta, one of Maza’s students from the 2021 SJWP competition, says that having a really good teacher makes all the difference for a young person.

“Having someone who understands you as a person and can use their experience to guide you through your studies is very valuable. With a great teacher, you develop a certain bond and you feel encouraged to learn new things and try out even seemingly crazy ideas, to understand and build experience of your own.”

Friday 11 February is the International Day for Women and Girls in Science