STEM educators, advocates, and leaders have once again gathered together to recognize the most innovative and dedicated STEM educators working in The First State today through the Seventh Delaware STEM Educator Awards.
The Delaware STEM Council and the Delaware Foundation for Science and Mathematics Education (DFSME) hosted the ceremony in a hybrid format from Buena Vista Country Estate in New Castle, Delaware on November 4, 2021. The special evening was made possible thanks to the event’s signature sponsor, Ashland, as well as sponsors Labware, DuPont, Agilent and DNREC.
The award ceremony’s keynote speaker, Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting, began the ceremony by recounting her own personal involvement in the Educator Awards and expressing the inspiring ways in which the Delaware STEM ecosystem has evolved throughout the years.
“This annual recognition of Delaware’s star STEM educators is a celebration which is near and dear to my heart,” Bunting said. “Each year, the entries have become increasingly impressive, and winner selection has become more and more challenging. I have been fascinated by Delaware educators’ ingenuity, and the variety of creative initiatives that they have submitted for recognition.”
Other elected representatives of Delaware appeared virtually to express support for the mission of Delaware STEM education and educators. Among them was Governor John Carney, who helped kick off the announcement of award winners.
“I’m excited to join you in recognizing the importance of STEM education in Delaware,” Carney said. “You all have an important role by teaching the scientists, innovators, and engineers of tomorrow. On behalf of the entire state of Delaware, thank you for your commitment to STEM education and the success of our students.” Delaware senators Tom Carper and Chris Coons also joined to honor the award applicants and recipients being celebrated that evening.
“I’ve had some firsthand experience with the excitement, the purpose, and the productivity of a life engaged in STEM,” Coons, who has a university background in chemistry, said. “I know there’s a great deal of work still to be done to sustain STEM education and deliver reliable and equitable resources in the process.”
Senator Tom Carper extended praise for Delaware educators who, despite the tremendous ongoing challenges of Covid-19 and virtual learning, have excelled in their fields in acts of resilience and strength.
“This pandemic has forced all of us to get creative in doing our jobs, but none more so than our teachers,” Carper said. “In the Navy, when people do extraordinary work, we say ‘Bravo Zulu.’ To all of you I say ‘Bravo Zulu.’”
Members of the Delaware STEM Council were present to announce live the Certified STEM Educator Award winners across the middle and high school levels. All first place award winners in each category received an unrestricted cash prize of $6,000, a commemorative trophy, and free access to all parks in the Delaware State Park system for one year.
At the middle school level, the first place award was presented to Gail Morris, a computer science and business education teacher at Gauger-Cobbs Middle School, and a 2019-2020 Gauger-Cobbs Middle School Teacher of the Year.
At the high school level, two separate applicants were awarded with a first place prize. Melissa Blair Tracy, a social studies teacher and Model UN and Youth in Government Adviser at Odyssey Charter School, as well as a duo of Delmar Senior High School teachers, Daniel Rice and Peter Burnham, were all honored as first place recipients. Rice is a science teacher and Burnham is a manufacturing and engineering technology teacher.
Middle school award winner Gail Morris offered an emotional reflection of the moment, expressing her immense gratitude and dedicating her win to her late mother, who was also a veteran Christina School District STEM educator.
“I want to say thank you to the Delaware STEM Educator committee members so much for selecting me as the middle school award recipient this evening,” Morris said. “If you couldn’t tell by my reaction, I was completely shocked and caught off guard, ecstatic and overjoyed at the same time!”
DFSME board member and former academic outreach manager for DuPont, P.J. Simon, presented the Community Educator Award.“This award speaks to the heart of the African proverb, that ‘it takes a village to raise a child,’” Simon said. “The village, or community, is where people that are closest to you encourage, mentor, and prepare all of us for the world.”
The Community Educator Award was presented to Jackie Means, the founder of the Wilmington Urban STEM Initiative and a sophomore medical diagnostics major at the University of Delaware, for her initiative to educate elementary school students about 3D printing technology.
The Armbrecht Award for Outstanding STEM Advocacy, an award given in memory of former DFSME Executive Director, Ross Armbrecht, is sponsored by the Armbrecht family together with DFSME. The award recognizes a Delaware educator who has demonstrated outstanding commitment and collaboration between business, education, and community leaders to advance STEM education in the state. This year, the Armbrecht Award was presented to Tonyea Mead, a Science Education Associate at Delaware Department of Education.
The Jon Manon STEAM Team Award was presented by DFSME executive director Randy Guschl. The award is accompanied by a $1,000 cash prize and it uniquely recognizes a team of educators who have achieved outstanding accomplishments in collaborating, coordinating, and executing their programs and projects.
This year’s winning team was comprised of Gene Beitman, Matthew Juck, David Wessell, and Atilano Rodriguez, a group of math and science educators from Middletown High School in the Appoquinimink school district.
With the awards revealed, Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester greeted attendees and winners with a message expressing her own sustained efforts to keep STEM education robust in The First State.
“I want all of you to know, as your congresswoman, I have your back when it comes to fighting for the integration of STEM education in our classrooms,” Blunt-Rochester said. “Our future will depend on how we prepare our young people today for success in the world, and that begins with you.”
Joining in person at Buena Vista, Delaware Lieutenant Governor Bethany Hall-Long, a long-standing champion of Delaware STEM, concluded the evening with closing thoughts, echoing the support and assurance which her colleagues in office have voiced throughout the evening.
“Each and everyone one of you is making Delaware proud,” Hall-Long said. “We would not be where we are today if it wasn’t for science. And I know, as I’ve talked to Governor Carney, we are well aware of the importance and the value of our teachers.”
As the Council and DFSME look forward to the Eighth Delaware STEM Educator Awards ceremony, slated for fall of 2022, the evening’s ceremony concluded with a reminder to all Delaware educators that the application for the 2022 running is now available online.
For further information and updates on upcoming events, or to learn more about the Delaware STEM Educator Awards, please visit the official Delaware STEM Council website at https://delawarestem.org/stem-council. The application process for the Eighth Annual Awards is now open.
Jan Castro is a writer, University of Delaware alum, and native Delawarean who has been a proud student of Delaware educators.