The National Association of Biology Teachers is always sorry to learn of the death of a member, but we are particularly saddened to announce the recent loss of Sue Offner. Not only was Sue a life-long NABT member and a leader in biology education, but she was a frequent contributor to ABT and presenter at countless NABT Conferences. It is particularly poignant that this issue of ABT includes the last of her many engaging articles designed to enhance biology teaching and learning. Her contributions and passion for biology education and for ABT will be deeply missed.
At 71, Sue died peacefully at home on February 13, 2016 surrounded by family. Susan (Neiman) grew up in East New York (Brooklyn), and Hackensack, NJ, the daughter of working-class, left-wing Jewish parents. She loved to tell her children and grandchildren family stories, sharing memories of her paternal grandparents' candy store in the Bronx, her maternal grandmother's bawdy sense of humor, and the political repression her parents faced during the McCarthy period.
From an early age, she was interested in science. She won a full scholarship to Brown University (then Pembroke) where she majored in biology, and in 1972, earned a Ph.D. in the same field from MIT. She was one of only two women in her graduate program, a lifelong feminist and an advocate for women in science. Sue spent the next 43 years teaching high school biology in the Plymouth, Milton, and Lexington public schools. She became influential in shaping high school biology education nationally.
Having studied genetics and evolution at a moment when those fields were exploding, she spent her career translating current scholarly research into lessons and labs accessible to teenagers. She published articles, helped to redesign the national Advanced Placement Biology exam, and produced a “Plain English Map of the Human Chromosomes” that was widely used in U.S. classrooms. Sue was proud to see her students win state and national prizes for genetics research projects, and she earned recognition for her teaching from the Siemens Foundation and the Massachusetts Association of Science Teachers.
Sue met her husband, Carl, in 1968 when they were graduate students active in the movement against the Vietnam War. Both belonged to Students for a Democratic Society, and Sue was a draft counselor for the Boston Draft Resistance Group. They became public school teachers, union activists in the Massachusetts Teachers Association, and lifelong defenders of public education as a cornerstone of a just society. Moving to Sudbury in 1985, Sue and Carl became members of Congregation Beth El, the Sudbury Democratic Town Committee and were long time political activists.
Sue was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in the fall of 2014, and with the support of her family battled the disease for a year and a half. With generous help from her colleagues and students at Lexington High School, she continued teaching until just a few months before her death. She is survived by her husband of 43 years, Carl D. Offner, children David and Amy C. Offner, grand-daughters Esme and Noa Offner and brother Martin Neiman. You may visit Susan Offner Remembrance to share your memories and condolences with donations to the American Jewish World Service.
This testimonial has been adapted from the obituary written by her family and posted on the web. We appreciate the opportunity to honor Sue and her legacy of service to biology education.