The summer of 1986 was a pivotal period for St. Andrew’s Math/Science Department Head Andrew Schirber. Having graduated from New Mexico State University in 1983 with a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering and then worked for three years as an engineer, he had a change of heart. So he applied to the Peace Corps, quit his job, and then jumped on his bike to ride across the US.
The journey, which began at the World’s Fair in Vancouver and ended in Boston, took a little over a month. At its end, Schirber was off to teach in Liberia, West Africa. “I joined the Peace Corps for a number of reasons,” he said. “I wanted to find a way to help after seeing a lot of suffering going on in the world. I was also ready for a career change. The Peace Corps allowed me that change and the possibility of teaching intrigued me.”
Two years later, Schirber returned to the states and entered a Peace Corps Fellowship Program at Columbia University’s Teachers College, where he taught at Boys & Girls High School in Brooklyn, NY, while working toward a Master of Arts in Mathematics Education. He also married Laurie, a fellow Peace Corps volunteer he met in Liberia who today teaches alongside him as a math teacher at St. Andrew’s.
Another two years after that, they headed to Brazil, where Schirber had accepted a position as math department head at Escola Graduada, an international school in Sao Paulo. Six years and two kids later, the states beckoned. “We were looking to return to the US somewhere near family in Massachusetts,” Schirber said. “We saw opportunities at St. Andrew’s and the more we discovered about the school, the more excited we got about relocating to Barrington. The friendliness and quietness of the school environs struck me. It seemed like a very inviting and inclusive place to work.”
This year marks Schirber's 20th anniversary at St. Andrew’s as math and science department head and Girls’ Varsity Basketball coach. It’s also his 10th anniversary as Varsity Tennis coach. In addition, he currently serves on the Chapin List Selection Committee, the Student Faculty Disciplinary Committee, and the National Honor Society Committee. As department head, Schirber oversees all aspects of the math/science department, from coaching and collaborating with colleagues and managing the departmental budget to deciding on course offerings and curriculum changes. He also teaches AP Calculus, AP Statistics, physics, and AP Physics.
“I love teaching inquiring minds!” Schirber said. “I most enjoy the challenge of taking difficult, complex concepts in math and physics and making them accessible and understandable to my students.” This process is aided by the very pupils he instructs. “They are always teaching me new ways to look at problems,” he said. “Those varied paths improve my teaching, allowing me other avenues to aid future classes in their journeys to understanding the material.”
As the son of a physicist and a brother to five engineers and scientists, Schirber — the middle of seven children who grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico — took a small detour in answering his life’s calling. Since then, however, he has aimed to make a lasting and positive impact in each student’s life during his or her time at St. Andrew’s, an endeavor that took root in West Africa 31 years ago.