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. 

Awards Ceremony

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, or visit their Facebook page for updates on the Council’s work in Delaware at

Along with Ashland Inc, this year’s symposium and awards are sponsored by the following:

  • DuPont
  • Air Liquide
  • Verizon
  • Agilent Technologies
  • Junior Achievement of Delaware
  • Labware
  • 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.
  • Rodel
  • DelawareBio
  • 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 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. 

The Fifth Annual Delaware STEM Symposium was held at DuPont Country Club in Wilmington last Tuesday, Oct. 8. The event was hosted by the Delaware STEM Council in conjunction with the Delaware Foundation for Science and Mathematics Education (DFSME), with primary sponsors Ashland and DuPont. The theme for this year’s symposium was equity, as throughout the conference, educators, business leaders, and policy-makers tackled head-on the challenges of working to make STEM in Delaware more equitable for all; students, educators, and workers alike.

The symposium began with a panel discussion between Delaware Military Academy students Seth Lawrence and Jacqueline Means, Brandywine High School educator and former Delaware STEM Council Co-chair Judson Wagner, and Candice Roundtree, a chemical engineer at Delmarva Power. The panel, comprised of the student, educator, and business leader perspectives, addressed their own experiences with equity or inequity, as well as barriers they may have faced in their educations or careers in STEM fields.

“I live in Southbridge, Wilmington, Delaware,” Means said. “In fact, only 40% of teens living there graduate with a high school diploma. I saw that there was a need for STEM programs, especially free ones.”

At 16 years old, Means, the self-described “STEM Queen,” founded the Wilmington Urban STEM Initiative and hosts Girls Empowerment STEM events, which offer free, accessible STEM programs and educational opportunities for young girls and students in Wilmington.

“I want to equip them with the knowledge and confidence that they, as females, can succeed in the STEM field,” Means described in her mission statement on her personal website.

Seth Lawrence also leads the way as both a student and a young educator. As an aspiring pilot at Delaware Military Academy, Lawrence joined the United States Air Force Auxiliary, and is now a 2nd Lieutenant Officer and leader among younger students who share the same enthusiasm for aviation. Lawrence is also involved in STEM and STEM equity organizations such as the Forum to Advance Minorities in Engineering (FAME) based in Delaware, and is an advocate for similar programs, such as the Organization for Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP).

“Aviation takes on literally every aspect of STEM,” Lawrence said, recalling the origins of his passion for aviation. “Once the wheels took off and I wasn’t touching the ground anymore, I was like, ‘Whoa, I’m in the sky. I gotta do it now.’ Since that moment, that created a drive for me. Now I have the opportunity to teach the younger kids who just joined, who are maybe in the lower ranks of Airman or Airman First Class. I see myself in them, and I remember I was really excited about aviation, and I still am now.”

Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting moderated the panel discussion. Prior to joining Governor John Carney’s cabinet in 2017, Bunting herself was a veteran Delaware educator and former superintendent of the Indian River School District, attuned to the worlds of equity, diversity, and accessibility in the classrooms. According to Bunting, she visits over 100 Delaware schools over the course of the year.

“I’m always the advocate for the kid who has no one else to speak for him,” Bunting said. “I’m always concerned about programs that are there. I want to make sure that students are not deprived of that opportunity. I think we as educators can do a lot more to assure [them].”

The panel discussion was followed by a “Cross the Line” activity, in which participants engaged in an exercise which challenged their comfort zones, introducing them to the complexity of pursuing equity in the classroom or workplace. The activity, which instructed participants to cross a line every time an announced quality of race, gender, or identity was applicable to them, highlighted the dynamics of diversity and difference, community versus isolation, setting an example versus joining a crowd.

“As educators, how do we navigate power in our classrooms? Do we reinforce already existing hierarchies? Do we challenge them? Do we complicate them? And, if so, how do we make that transparent,” a moderator asked in the evening’s following segment, “Real Conversations,” wherein participants broke into separate groups to reflect on the exercise.

“Kids need more teachers who look like them, and who have had common experiences as them,” Anne Pfaelzer de Ortiz, Director of Development & Operations for DFSME, said. “How do you open the eyes of the teachers and of the educational system? So that, even if you don’t look like the kid, you accept a student and accept what he or she brings. And instead of passing over the kid, you open doors. It’s a huge amount of work that teachers do, and a huge amount of power that they have – and equal to the power that a parent or family member has.”

In concluding the first half of the symposium, closing remarks were made by DFSME Executive Director Randy Guschl and FAME Program Director Lakia Belcher, as well as a final address from Lieutenant Governor Bethany Hall-Long.

The Lt. Governor also represents another Delaware government official with an extensive background and relationship with STEM and STEM education, having pursued nursing in her undergraduate studies and later completing her Ph.D. in health policy and nursing administration.

“Everyone should have equal opportunity,” Lt. Governor Hall-Long said. “A strong science background is a must for the Delaware workforce. And young children, whether it’s our inner cities or our rural communities, should have the same opportunity. So, for me, equity is paramount.”

A brief intermission was followed by the second half of the symposium, which included video correspondence and messages from Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester, Senators Tom Carper and Chris Coons, and Governor John Carney, all leading up to the evening’s Delaware STEM Educator Awards ceremony.

“Delaware’s future experts on science, technology, and engineering all have to start their learning somewhere, and you’re inspiring them to succeed,” Carney said in a video message. “Those being honored tonight are perfect examples of the diverse, innovative, dedicated educators that are guiding Delaware.”

Rochester, Coons, and Carney also commended the evening’s STEM educators for their dedication, as well as the council’s ambitions for addressing and improving equity across the board of Delaware STEM as the symposium’s central theme.

The first place Delaware STEM Educator Awards were received by Smyrna Elementary school library media specialist Heather Fitzgerald, Millsboro Middle School science teacher Sarah Betlejewski, and Caesar Rodney High School computer science teacher Margaret Birch. Second and third place winners also included, respectively, William Penn High School agriculture teacher Karen Ferrucci and Sussex Technical High School science teacher Michele Thomas.

The symposium concluded with a final opportunity for its diverse range of attendees – from educators and students to business and industry leaders – to collaborate, socialize, and network.

“This organization is some of the best people I’ve met, that are pure to the soul of trying to help other human beings. And to me, that means a lot,” Vito Consiglio, Senior Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer of Ashland, said.

Consiglio prioritizes Ashland’s attendance, sponsorship, and support of the Delaware STEM Symposium, emphasizing the importance of the relationship between businesses and the community.

“For us, this is something we think has a lot of value,” Consiglio said. “It helps to feed the opportunities within our organization to get great candidates that live in the state of Delaware. So we want to help nourish that bed of people, and the only way to do that is to play an active role in the community.”

Jon Manon, President of DFSME and Associate Director of Mathematics at the University of Delaware’s School of Education, expressed his gratitude for the Delaware STEM Council on its ability to assemble a breadth of STEM leaders for a day of collaboration, and the inherent optimism of such a prospect.

“It’s the perfect nexus of educators, business and industry, and government coming together and, in very honest ways, saying, ‘How do we move forward and how do we reinvent this? How do we make it better?’” Manon said. “It’s sort of the perfect storm, if you will. I suppose other states have this mechanism but because of the size and connectedness of Delaware, this really augurs well for the future of STEM education in Delaware.”

Leaders in Delaware STEM will once again assemble for next year’s symposium, to be held in April 2020. For updates on future announcements for the upcoming date and location, further information and additional resources can be found at the official Delaware STEM Council website,

To register for next year’s ceremony or to apply for the Delaware STEM Educator Awards, visit


Jan Castro is a junior at the University of Delaware, studying English and journalism. He is a Delaware native from Hockessin and has been a proud student of Delaware educators. After college, he hopes to pursue a career in journalism, feature writing, and magazine writing.

Each year, the Delaware STEM Council recognizes teachers that demonstrate excellence, innovation, and passion in STEM education through the Delaware STEM Educator Awards. The award celebrates teachers from across the state, and from across the elementary, middle, and high school levels. These teachers undertake projects and initiatives both inside and outside of the classroom in service of creating a more comprehensive and robust STEM education system for our Delaware schools, championing academic collaboration and student engagement in the process. First place winners receive a one-time, unrestricted financial contribution as gratitude for their commitment to their students and to Delaware STEM.


In 2014 and 2015, a total of six educators received the first place Delaware STEM Educator Award. Among them were educators that pioneered a diversity of STEM initiatives in their respective schools, including programs in robotics, computer science, and engineering. Each educator shared their experiences, stories, challenges, and successes in their journeys in propelling STEM education.


Travis Bower, Principal at Southern Delaware School of the Arts


Travis Bower placed first in 2015 for the Delaware STEM Educator Award for primary education. During his time as a teacher at Selbyville Middle School, he introduced a robotics program for K-8 students, incorporating STEM concepts borrowed from his background in VEX robotics and as a leader for his local robotics camp. At the time, Bower’s robotics program was the only one at the middle school level in Sussex County.


Since winning the award in 2015, Bowers became assistant principal at Georgetown Middle School and, through the new opportunities available to him, was able to implement a robotics program across the entire school district for grades K-12. He is now the principal at Southern Delaware School of the Arts.


What importance do you find in robotics, STEM, and the Delaware STEM Educator Awards?

“I see the value in teaching our students STEM skills all across the board. It’s really important for them to see what they will have the ability to work with when they graduate from high school and college and start their careers. It’s just amazing to watch, as they go through, just how much they do learn and how much they can use it in their life from day-to-day. So it really allowed me a chance to get the ball rolling for Sussex county on it.”


What did you do with the funds from the award?

“I was actually able to use the STEM money that we got from that award to start building programs in all of our Indian River schools. Because of the efforts of not just myself but others that we have in our district that really jumped on board with me, we actually have robotics in every one of our schools in Indian River.”


What are your recommendations for educators looking to get students engaged in STEM topics, or considering applying for the Delaware STEM Educator Awards?

“If there’s a will to make that change and to bring any STEM initiative, there are ways to get there. There’s a lot of people in the community that do support STEM and see the value in it. It’s just a matter of reaching out to say, ‘Here’s what I’m looking at and any help you can give, I’ll take.’”


Any final thoughts on Delaware STEM?

“As a whole I think the STEM Educator Awards are a great opportunity for educators. There are a lot of teachers that go above and beyond, not just STEM but in whatever area they focus on, that don’t often get the recognition they deserve.”


Ruth Fuchs, Librarian at McIlvaine Early Childhood Center


Ruth Fuchs placed first in 2014 for the Delaware STEM Award for primary education. At McIlvaine Early Childhood Center in Magnolia, Fuchs currently works with over 500 kindergarten students from across Kent County. As a librarian, her lesson plans involve creative ways of integrating STEM topics into learning opportunities for her kindergarteners. Fuchs continued to pursue her passion for STEM education after the 2014 award, putting some of the award earnings towards developing new lessons and incorporating new learning materials.


“I try to integrate, intertwine literacy, and the importance of reading, with science,” Fuchs said.


What are some of the creative lesson ideas you used in 2014 to introduce some of your kindergarteners to concepts in STEM?

“I always integrate my lessons with what’s happening in the school. And because I have a science background, my love for science is quite present in my lessons. In the fall, we actually went out and got leaves, and they used hand lenses and took a closer look. In the winter time, we were doing biography books, so I tied in a science lesson with [Wilson] “Snowflake” Bentley. So our students were able to use microscopes, and then I had them use Q-tips to build snowflakes. Based on what they had learned from the story and the little bit of research on snow, they built six-figured snowflakes, all different designs. So it was a flurry of learning.”


What was the experience of winning the Delaware STEM Educator Award like?

“Obviously I was flabbergasted by winning the award, when my name was announced. There’s quite a few creative teachers in the state of Delaware and I was obviously honored on behalf of my school district, Caesar Rodney, to win this award. And our district since then has encouraged STEM, so much so that we actually created a STEM class in McIlvaine.”


What did you do with the funds from the award?

“I have been able to purchase items for STEM. For example, last year I did a lesson on roller coasters. We integrated technologies, they used their Chromebooks to listen to a book about roller coasters. Then I was able to purchase marble towers, so then they had to, as a team, build a roller coaster, using the marbles as carts, from start to finish. So with some of the money I’ve been able to build and add new things for my library lessons. And also, obviously, books.”


What kinds of books did you incorporate into your lessons?

“This past year I did a whole unit on space, so I was able to purchase quite a few books on space to ignite children’s learning through looking through books and getting excited about stars and constellations. So some of the resources from the STEM award were used to purchase more books to put in the hands [of students], to encourage and inspire, and also materials so I can create different lessons. Because when you’re teaching 500 students, to have supplies, that’s a lot. So my lessons always have to be very simple.”


What are your recommendations for educators looking to get students engaged in STEM topics, or considering applying for the Delaware STEM Educator Awards?

“If your passion is of science, math, technology, engineering, then the sky’s the limit. To me, your students, their excitement, their ‘a-ha’ moment, fuels my passion to be as creative as I can in the lesson. I would encourage future STEM teachers. They could look out and explore, talk to other science teachers, math educators. There’s a lot of resources that you can increase your knowledge of, incorporating into your classroom lessons. But let the students fuel your ambitions.”


Brian Sherrer, Technology Education Teacher at Garnet Valley High School


At the time of winning the Delaware STEM Educator Award in 2014, Brian Sherrer was an engineering teacher at Brandywine High School, teaching Processes of Engineering & Design. Sherrer had teamed up with two other engineering teachers from Brandywine School District high schools, Brooks Twilley from Mount Pleasant and Jordan Estock from Concord, for an ambitious, district-wide STEM project and overhaul. With the leadership of Judson Wagner, the three designed and introduced a comprehensive STEM pathway which would ultimately become instituted across the school district. Their collective efforts would further be awarded the first place Delaware STEM Educator Award for secondary education in 2014.


What changes are you observing in the ways the students of today are learning?

“Education is an ever-evolving thing. It used to be mostly note-taking, test-taking, and score-driven. Now I feel like there is almost an application of what you’re learning, and that you should demonstrate that through your documentation or deliverables. In my opinion, as students embrace the digital world, social media, and the tools that are out there available for open-source, it’s only right to meet them in their environment instead of trying to hold onto what we’ve traditionally done in the past. And if you’re expecting the kids to take risks about their learning and the projects that they want to take on, I feel like the educators should be willing to take those risks and do, at the end of the day, what’s best for the kids.”


What did you do with the funds from the award?

“A lot of the time that we spent on actually developing the curriculum was on our own time after school. We didn’t share a collaborative period or anything like that. A lot of the heavy lifting was done outside the school day. So we basically took the award money and we divided it between the three of us. I just used mine to pay off some debt, haha. You know, it was kind of for the award winner. Somebody could say, ‘Hey, why didn’t you spend it on your classroom,’ but at the end of the day I felt it was earned.”


What are your recommendations for educators looking to get students engaged in STEM topics, or considering applying for the Delaware STEM Educator Awards?

“Fast-forwarding five or so years since our winning of the award, I would even say, in that short period of time, just going from what I’ve seen in Brandywine with blended learning, with using learning management systems like Schoology or Canvas – and now being at Garnet Valley. There’s really been a push towards gearing the programs to meet the ever-changing needs of the kids. Anyone that is applying or planning to apply in the future, I think that they should probably take that into consideration, just seeing how there’s a shift towards more of an online learning environment, just with all the tools on the internet available today.”


Any final thoughts on Delaware STEM?

“I think good programs and good teachers and the results that you see with students, I think all of that starts at the top. I felt as though we had great leadership through Judson Wagner. We would have never gotten to the point we were at if it weren’t his endless drive of, I don’t want to say perfection but it really was perfection. He wanted to make things the best that they could be, and I feel like Brooks and Jordan also shared that view. And I think that, just as a team, we really complimented each other well, we all shared similar skill sets but also brought our own lens to the whole project as well. Going back to that whole saying, ‘It takes a village,’ it certainly does.”


Brooks Twilley, Operations Manager at the University of Delaware’s Maker Gym


Brook Twilley was the second member of the first place-winning team in 2014, at the time representing Mount Pleasant High School as an engineering and technology teacher.


Twilley is currently an operations manager at the University of Delaware’s Maker Gym, an upcoming workshop space designed to provide access to cutting-edge technology, including 3D printers, wood shop equipment, scanners, CNC machines, laser cutters, virtual reality, and fabric design. The new facility is set to open later this fall and and its resources will be available to all university students and faculty.


What was the inspiration to overhaul and institute a new STEM program at Mount Pleasant High School, and Brandywine School District at large?

“When I got there and started assessing the condition of my space, and [I] realized that it was tired and in need of some rejuvenation and new direction. I worked with Judson Wagner, who, at the time was the co-chair of the Governor’s STEM Council. Pitched some ideas to Jud, and he was behind them but I didn’t want it to be just implementing those improvements at Mount, I felt like that was not sustainable. So I reached out to Jordan and Brian and said, ‘Let’s do this together.’ And let’s reinvent what engineering and technology education looks like at the high school level.”


What did you do with the funds from the award?

“It was definitely for personal use. At the time, all three of us were young teachers. We were all still struggling to start our families. I’m sure it probably went to the house. Ashland was generous. Ashland as a company, back when I was teaching middle school, they’d bring engineers in for days to just work with my kids. I think that’s amazing that Delaware has a company like that, that’s just willing to put their money where their mouth is, but also their people, I think, are more important.”


What are your recommendations for educators looking to get students engaged in STEM topics, or considering applying for the Delaware STEM Educator Awards?

“The most important thing is to not let your inexperience become a roadblock. In that, your kids need you to do this. The students need exposure to things, and without you to do it who will. If you see something, do something. Even if it means you being uncomfortable with it or you not knowing it. Learn with them. I think kids respond to that, and [they] recognize, ‘Hey, my teacher doesn’t need to be an expert but they’re willing and they’re taking on these uncomfortable things.’ And in addition to getting them exposed to something, you’re teaching them a skill, the resiliency of persisting through unfamiliar territory and challenges. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. If you go and interview the great teachers in any district, that’s the trait you’re going to find. In addition to their generosity, they’re just willing to dive into things they need to but might not know how to.”


Jordan Estock, Design and Engineering Teacher at Concord High School


Jordan Estock was the third member of the first place-winning team in 2014, representing Concord High School as an engineering teacher.


Most of Estock’s work now as a teacher at Concord involves real world problem-solving and application. His engineering students directly work with disabled and special needs students around the state to develop unique and creative engineering and design projects.


What was the process of creating and integrating this new STEM pathway for the district?

“We would meet on a monthly or weekly basis and just talk about our vision for what we wanted our classrooms to be and to take the steps necessary to align the three high schools. Prior to this team being put together, each high school was kind of doing whatever they wanted. Some were doing auto shop, some were doing graphics, some were doing wood shop. We moved away from that and unified all three high schools to be providing the same high quality engineering curriculum that we were writing and practicing all at the same time. We were putting it into action as we were writing it.”


What kind of projects are you and your students involved in now, at Concord High School?

“That award kind of jumpstarted us to where we are now, but I feel like we’re doing bigger and better things than we were five years ago. This year we’re partnered with Mary Campbell center, we’ve got people working for elementary schools in the district. We had a group come in from Engineers Without Borders for a project in Kenya, and we’re trying to help them with a rainwater collection system, so we’re all across the board.”


What did you do with the funds from the award?

“The three award winners split the earnings and all of us took our families out to Iron Hill immediately following the event to celebrate. The rest went to my mortgage.”


What are your recommendations for educators looking to get students engaged in STEM topics, or considering applying for the Delaware STEM Educator Awards?

“Get students comfortable using the design process. Teach fundamental skills in areas of CAD, electronics, and fabrication. Connect students to authentic real world problems in the community. Spend time making connections and finding problems in your community, these real world problems are the types of things that are valuable for our kids.”

Robert Gibson, Computer and Information Sciences Teacher at Sussex Central High School, Computer Science Adjunct Faculty at the University of Delaware

Robert Gibson won first place for the Delaware STEM Educator Award in secondary education in 2015. At Sussex Central High School, he designed and built a full, three-year, IT-based pathway in CTE, or Career & Technical Education. The pathway addressed a range of topics in IT, cyber security, and general hardware and software that are relevant to the computer science careers of such high demand today.


During that same year, Gibson also received a $10,000 grant from, the website and organization that created the Hour of Code, a one-hour, introduction to coding event that takes place with educators and students worldwide.


Can you talk more about your experiences as an educator in 2015, receiving the STEM award and the grant?

“The same year in 2015, I was also recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the White House as a national CTE innovator. And so I was able to, that same year, go to the White House and represent my program. And there’s a student group I’m an advisor for, a national group called the TSA, the Technology Students Association, and so I was able to represent the TSA and Sussex Central at the White House. So that was a good year for me. It was quite an honor.”


What did you do with the funds from the award?
“The grant money that I won through I was able to put back into the classroom in terms of resources for the students. So I actually used a lot of the STEM Educator Award to do some professional development stuff for me, in terms of some trainings, and I was able to put it back into what I needed to do to better myself as an educator.”


What are your recommendations for educators looking to get students engaged in STEM topics, or considering applying for the Delaware STEM Educator Awards?

“The great thing about it is that anybody can do it. So any of your students, whether they’re top athletes, whether they just want to sit around and do coding stuff, it’s something that anybody can do. Any race, any gender, any background. It’s something that’s universal. It truly prepares people for what comes next. Having a background in STEM, having a background in technology are all skills that will better prepare them to be successful.”


Each educator from this 2014 – 2015 award-winning cohort expressed common themes regarding what it means to be a leader and teacher in STEM today: a commitment and readiness to serve students, a resiliency to take on new challenges and experiences, and a generosity to actively devote the time and energy into furthering Delaware STEM education.


The Fifth Annual Delaware STEM Symposium will take place on October 8th at DuPont Country Club in Wilmington. The annual event will once again bring together leaders, experts, and educators at the forefront of STEM and STEM education to discuss contemporary challenges, opportunities, and future prospects. The examples set by these six previous award-winning educators embody an optimism for the future of STEM which the Delaware STEM Council will be celebrating once more in the 2019 Delaware STEM Educator Awards ceremony.

The Delaware STEM Council was created to oversee the evaluation and improvement of STEM education in Delaware schools. This includes through increasing engagement of students to pursue STEM careers, and to broaden the involvement of women and minorities in STEM fields. For Delaware students not pursuing STEM careers, the Council hopes to spread STEM literacy for all students, to provide skills that are valued in the growing market of STEM-oriented jobs. The Council also works to expand the STEM workforce in Delaware, and subsequently grow and attract STEM-related businesses to the state.

The 2019 symposium is sponsored by Ashland Inc., an American chemical company with global operations in over 100 countries. Thanks to the gracious support of Ashland, among other advocates and sponsors of Delaware STEM, the annual symposium is able to bring together the state’s vanguard of STEM for this day of collaboration.

To register for next year’s ceremony or to apply for the Delaware STEM Educator Awards, visit


Jan Castro is a junior at the University of Delaware, studying English and journalism. He is a Delaware native from Hockessin and has been a proud student of Delaware educators. After college, he hopes to pursue a career in journalism, feature writing, and magazine writing.