Savannah Swanson / Delaware Technical Community College
The Delaware Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Council held its fifth annual STEM Symposium and Educator Awards Ceremony at the DuPont Country Club in Wilmington, DE, on Tuesday, October 8, 2019. The symposium ran from 2 p.m.- 5:30 p.m., followed by a brief reception, and ending with the awards ceremony from 6 p.m.- 7:30 p.m.
Co-hosted by the Delaware Foundation for Science and Mathematics Education and sponsored by Ashland Inc, the awards ceremony recognizes teachers or a team of teachers at the elementary, middle and high school levels who demonstrate STEM innovation and excellence through their teaching and student engagement.
Ashland’s Senior Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer Vito Consiglio gave the keynote speech during the awards ceremony. Consiglio values STEM education and the development of the STEM workforce because not only is he in the STEM field, but his family members are as well.
“STEM is a widely recognized acronym, but the reality is that it goes way beyond what the letters are. It’s not limited by those four letters,” Consiglio said.
“We love to be a part of this. We think it is an integral part of the betterment of human society.”
Tackling inequality in STEM
This year’s symposium topic tackles what equity- and the lack of equity- looks like in the STEM workforce and STEM education. Participants specifically looked at how and why minority groups are underrepresented in STEM.
STEM Council co-chairs Teri Quinn Gray and Jud Wagner were very excited about this year’s focus on inequities in the STEM workforce and classrooms and believe talking about problems facing STEM is what enables change.
“We wanted to create an environment where we can talk about [inequity] with real, authentic conversations and not be so inhibited or judged,” Gray said.
“In the political backdrop of where we are in the nation as well as the world, that’s a difficult thing to have right now, but it’s time that we should be talking about it.”
As a STEM educator at Brandywine High School, Wagner is keen on doing his part in increasing access to quality STEM education for underrepresented students as well as nontraditional students. Wagner has done his part in encouraging these individuals to participate in STEM through his inclusive STEM programs.
Wagner has helped run a summer STEM camp at Brandywine High, of which many participants were female. Elementary and middle school students participated, with high schoolers and college students in STEM-related majors working with the younger students.
Wagner said it has been really endearing and exciting to see kids from various age groups encouraging each other to succeed and teaching one another.
The symposium started in the afternoon with a panel discussing this year’s topic of inequity in STEM. The panel consisted of STEM educators, including Wagner, and STEM students & employees, and was moderated by Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting.
“I’m very interested by the unique and creative ways educators have tried to do what our students talk to us about doing- to make learning exciting and to make it involve and encourage problem solving,” Bunting said.
“I am all for education that is meaningful. It challenges them to think and to apply and to stretch their knowledge and the application of that knowledge.”
The panelists discussed how they have experienced inequity in their respective STEM areas and the ways in which they succeeded in overcoming the obstacles produced by inequity.
One of the most powerful stories came from panelist Jacqueline Means. Means is a senior at the Delaware Military Academy (DMA), where she commands over 300 cadets as the Bravo Battalion Commanding Officer.
Means grew up in Southbridge, DE, where economic mobility is extremely low. Means’ interest in STEM helped her overcome the negative statistics that define the Southbridge area. She uses her passion for learning to encourage other young children in Wilmington, specifically girls, to pursue their dreams in STEM.
“You are so much more. You are not limited to what is around you,” Means said. “There’re so much more out there to expand your mind.”
At 17 years old, Means has founded the Wilmington Urban STEM Initiative, and works to empower young girls to chase their dreams. She also created summer programs in the Wilmington area where children can engage in educational STEM activities.
After high school, Means plans to study neuroscience, so she may eventually become a neurosurgeon.
Mentoring through STEM
Another major point discussed by panelists and audience members was the importance of being a mentor to young learners and encouraging positive relationships with students.
Lakia Belcher, the Director of Education and Strategic Outreach for FAME, Inc. is very passionate about giving students mentors and encouraging students to absorb what they learn, rather than just memorize the information.
Belcher said she believes that giving young learners positive mentors is the key factor in increasing children’s retention of knowledge. But making an impact on students, she says, starts with taking the time to get to know them.
“The biggest thing I tell my teacher friends is to build relationships and get to know your students, and then you can teach them. If you don’t get to know them, you’ll only get so far,” Belcher said.
“Through that idea of relationship building, that’s how you’re able to foster and create wonderful and brilliant students.”
Belcher also believes that change only comes if people are aware of the inequities affecting the STEM industry and surround themselves with others who have different viewpoints.
“If everybody looks the same, talks the same, and walks the same, then there will be no innovation, and everything will be stagnant,” Belcher said.
Following the panel discussion, audience members engaged in an activity called Cross the Line, where they were given a statement and told to step forward if they agreed or identified with it. The goal of Cross the Line is to help participants identify and acknowledge the differences among one other, and by doing so be more aware of those differences and challenges that others face in STEM.
Participants then broke off into groups for the rest of the symposium to discuss the importance of the Cross the Line activity, as well as the history of equity and the lack of equity in education and how it has changed over the years.
After the conclusion of the symposium in the afternoon, everyone enjoyed a brief networking reception which allowed everyone to socialize with each other and discuss the day’s events thus far.
Afterwards, the Awards Ceremony began with Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall Long speaking on the importance of quality STEM education in Delaware.
“Policy makers nationally and at the state level have to be aware that we can’t have a one-size-fits-all curriculum,” Long said.
Like Bunting, Long has a background in education and knows that interacting successfully with students starts with understanding that not all of them are the same, and that they cannot be put into a “cookie-cutter mold.”
Long was not the only Delaware political figure to address the audience. Although they could not attend, Gov. John Carney, Sens. Chris Coons and Tom Carper, and Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester sent video messages to the event, with all of them thanking STEM educators for their work in Delaware schools.
Finally, STEM Council Co-Chairs Wagner and Gray announced this year’s winners.
For the elementary level:
- Library media specialist Heather Fitzgerald won for her work in the Smyrna School District since 2015.
For the middle school level:
- Millsboro Middle School science teacher Sarah Betlejewski won for her work in the Indian River School District.
The high school level was a little more competitive, with three awards given:
- Michele Thomas won third place for her work at Sussex Technical High School in the Sussex Tech School District. She’s been a science teacher in the Sussex Tech District since 2012.
- Second place went to agricultural teacher Karen Ferrucci for her work at William Penn High School in the Colonial School District. She has been with the district since 2016.
- Finally, Margaret Birch received top honors for her work as a computer science teacher at Caesar Rodney High School. She has been with the Caesar Rodney School District since 2000.
Daniel Suchenski, the executive director for the Governor’s STEM Council, said he’d love to boost student engagement at future events, but overall loves how enthusiastic participants are during the symposium discussions.
“The Symposium is not meant to advocate for a specific, prescribed, or top-down policy change to improve STEM access in the state,” Suchenski said.
“Simply having the conversation, and getting people talking to one another, can be more powerful than coming up with a solution.”
For more information on this year’s symposium and awards, visit delawarestem.org, or visit their Facebook page for updates on the Council’s work in Delaware at facebook.com/DelawareSTEM.
Along with Ashland Inc, this year’s symposium and awards are sponsored by the following:
- Air Liquide
- Agilent Technologies
- Junior Achievement of Delaware
- ZipCode Wilmington
- Bloom Energy
- Spekciton Biosciences
Additional partners include:
- Delaware Math Coalition
- Delaware Technical Community College
- Delaware State University
- Delcastle Technical High School
- FAME Inc.
- Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control
About the Delaware STEM Council
The Delaware STEM Council was created in 2011 by former Delaware Gov. Jack Markell with the mission to increase STEM literacy for Delaware students and boost the number of individuals interested in pursuing advanced degrees and careers in STEM fields.
The Council is headed by Co-Chairs Jud Wagner and Teri Quinn Gray, and Executive Director Daniel Suchenski. Wagner is a physics and engineering teacher at Brandywine High School in Wilmington, DE. Gray is a chemist working with DuPont in Wilmington, DE, and serves on the Board of Directors for the U.S. Education Delivery Institute (EDI). Suchenski serves on the board for the Delaware Foundation for Science and Math Education (DFSME).
About Ashland Inc.
Ashland Global Holdings Inc. (NYSE: ASH) is a premier global specialty chemicals company serving customers in a wide range of consumer and industrial markets, including adhesives, architectural coatings, automotive, construction, energy, food and beverages, nutraceuticals, personal care and pharmaceutical.
At Ashland, we are approximately 6,500 passionate, tenacious solvers – from renowned scientists and research chemists to talented engineers and plant operators – who thrive on developing practical, innovative and elegant solutions to complex problems for customers in more than 100 countries. Visit ashland.com to learn more.
Delaware Foundation for Science & Mathematics Education’s (DFSME) mission is to strengthen STEM education and prepare Delaware students to be informed citizens and competitive in the global workforce. Our vision is that Delaware’s world-class STEM education system will serve as a magnet to attract businesses, families, and innovative educators to come to and remain in Delaware.
About Savannah Swanson
Savannah Swanson is a Communications student at Delaware Technical Community College, Jack F. Owens Campus in Georgetown, DE. She plans on graduating with her Associate’s degree in the spring of 2020, and then wants to pursue her Bachelor’s degree at a four-year university.