Blueprint Magazine

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Blueprint Magazine

Blueprint Magazine

From CIA Scientist to High School Science

PHS teacher’s journey to inspire a new generation of scientists

In a world where teenagers are best known for texting and TikTok, what would inspire a former CIA scientist and college professor to come out of retirement to teach high school science? For Pinnacle High School teacher Mark Allen, it is connecting with those teens.

“My favorite thing about teaching high school is getting students excited about science, whether it’s chemistry or physics,” Allen said.

Though just finishing his first year teaching high school science, Allen is not new to the subject of science. He spent most of his life in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he majored in Mathematics and Computer Science at the University of New Mexico. 

“Math was my first love and I grew to like science over time,” said Allen.

He went on to earn a Master’s degree in Computer Science at the University of Wisconsin, as well as a Master’s in Business and a PhD in Economics from the University of New Mexico. 

“I went to school too long,” Allen said, laughing.

Allen’s extensive education helped him land a job for the CIA as a scientist. 

“I worked at the National Laboratory called Sandia Labs most of my career,” he said. “I used to work on nuclear weapons.”

A contractor for the U.S Department of Energy’s National Security Administration, Sandia National Laboratories works to develop technology to update and protect nuclear weapons, protect national infrastructure and ensure stable energy and water supplies. In addition to saving the world as a scientist, Allen spent his career teaching. 

“I taught college most of my life, on a part-time basis for 25 years,” Allen said.

Eventually, Allen retired from the CIA and teaching. He spent his time golfing and playing tennis until he moved to Arizona in 2017. 

“Before I moved to Arizona, I played lots of tennis,” he said. “But I can’t do that now. It’s too hot. So my favorite summer activity living in Arizona is swimming.”

Allen has one daughter who graduated from PHS  in 2018 and a 10-year-old white lap dog named Buttercup. 

According to the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association, 29.7 percent of teaching positions remained unfilled across the state at the beginning of this school yaer, so Allen came out of retirement to teach high school and science this year.  

“They need more science teachers,” he said. “And I like science, so I thought, I’ll just help out.” 

With Allen’s incredible life experiences and extensive expertise, PHS students benefitted this year because he did.

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About the Contributor
Mya Phelan
Mya Phelan, Freelance Writer