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Dr Amber-Lee Donahoo

A former neuroscientist who chose to be a high school teacher has galvanised the Burpengary and Narangba community to raise more than $25,000, and crucial awareness, to help find a cure for cancer. 

Dr Amber-Lee Donahoo, who is a finalist for this year’s Queensland College of Teachers TEACHX Award for Outstanding Contribution to School Community, left a promising science career for the classroom. “From day one of primary school I went home and said, ‘I want to be a teacher’. I’ve always wanted to help people,” the Burpengary State Secondary College (BSSC) Junior Science and Psychology teacher said. 

Dr Donahoo undertook her PhD in molecular mechanisms regulating the development of the corpus callosum – the largest fibre tract of the mammalian brain – and presented her findings to international conferences in Japan and across the United States.

​“At the end of my PhD I didn’t feel like I was helping people and I knew that I would have a better opportunity to help people as a teacher,” Dr Donahoo said. 

Dr Donahoo now uses her passion for and understanding of science to generate real-world activities and lessons in her classroom. She is also one of the first teachers in Queensland to be teaching Psychology – a new subject in the senior syllabus.

“Psychology is a fantastic subject because it really opens up conversations about mental health and investigating how people think and behave. It develops your awareness that not everybody thinks the same way as you and asks why people do the things that they do, and what motivates them to do those things. I think that awareness beyond our own selves is quite amazing,” she says.

The welfare of students is always uppermost in Dr Donahoo’s mind, which is one of the reasons she has led back-to-back campaigns called ‘Do it for Cancer’.

Linking the school value of courage with the campaigns, Dr Donahoo’s loss of her own mother put her in a unique position to understand what some BSSC students were going through in dealing with a loved one’s cancer diagnosis, treatment, and sometimes their death as a result.

“The campaign aims to raise cancer awareness and to let students who have had family members pass away know that other people were out there feeling the same way, because for me, even though I was surrounded by family at the time, I felt so isolated in my grief and it was heartbreaking because I could see that there were people around me that cared about me and yet I still felt so isolated,” she said.

“It is very difficult for me to see that teenagers are going through similar circumstances and are feeling isolated.”

As a result, dozens of fundraising activities have been run over the past two years, including students and staff shaving their heads, and students from BSSC feeder primary schools also getting involved. Students have also let Dr Donahoo know of the enormous difference it had made in their lives to know they were not alone. 

As a finalist, Dr Donahoo received $500 for professional development. 

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