In 2014, Thiel was named a Claes Nobel Educator of the Year by the National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS). This award is presented to exemplary educators who have demonstrated an outstanding commitment to preparing students for success in college and in life.
Over the course of his career, Thiel was named the Teacher of the Year four times by organizations such as the California Technology Assistance Project Region IV (1999), the Pleasanton Unified School District (200-2001), and was recognized by Radio Shack as the National Technology Teacher of the Year (2002).
Thiel attended St. Mary’s College of Moraga for two years before transferring to Cal State University, Hayward, where he received a bachelor’s degree in biology as well as a secondary science teaching credential. He later earned a master’s degree in Educational Technology.
While at O’Dowd (1976-1985), he taught AP Biology, Biology, Marine Biology, Human Anatomy & Physiology, and Photography. He served as science department chairperson (1979-1985), Director of Student Activities, and coached volleyball and golf.
“Eric was a joyful guy. Always smiling, frequently laughing, and always wanting to have fun. He truly didn’t have a mean or malicious bone in his body. He was a true competitor, but never in a cutthroat way. And that was Eric’s impact on his students. No matter a student’s mood going into Eric’s classroom, out to his practice, sitting around him in the gym watching a basketball game, or standing with him bs-ing around the flagpole during lunch, students went away more joyful and optimistic than they were entering his presence,” former O’Dowd English teacher Lee Lipps said.
“When you are part of a school’s faculty, you hear both positive and negative things from your students about others of their teachers, past and present. I never once heard a negative about ‘Mr. Thiel’,” Lipps added.
Current O’Dowd Math teacher Dennis Dougherty said that Thiel was among a group of teachers, including Brad Goodhart, Randy Kinavey, Tom Tyler, and Didi Kubicek, who set a standard for excellence when Dougherty began teaching at O’Dowd in 1979.
“I also enjoyed some great times on the whitewater rafting trips that he and Tom Tyler led for students and faculty to kick off the summer,” Dougherty said. “Eric’s smile and laughter will always be remembered.”
Thiel taught at Foothill High from 1985-1991, where he designed and implemented the school’s first photography curriculum.
At Amador High School in 1991, Thiel initiated the AP Biology curriculum and served as the Science Department Chairperson. He also implemented an inclusive, open-enrollment policy allowing any student interested in being challenged to enroll in AP courses.
He also was an educational technology workshop instructor at Lawrence Livermore National Lab.
Thiel is survived by his wife, Kelly, his four children, Julie, Ryan, Zach and Noah, and his grandchildren Colby and Brady. He is preceded in death by his first wife, Leslie Ramos Thiel ’70, who died of cancer in 2003. Memorial services have not yet been announced.