The 8th Annual Delaware STEM Educator Award Winners Ceremony: “STEM Permeates Everything!”

The 8th Annual Delaware STEM Educator Award Winners Ceremony:

“STEM Permeates Everything!”

By Jan Castro

The 8th Annual Delaware STEM Educator Awards ceremony was held in a hybrid format and hosted
live at Buena Vista Country Estate in New Castle, Delaware on November 17th, 2022. Throughout the evening, six awards with accompanying cash prizes were presented to individuals and teams of educators, from across the elementary through high school levels, for their unmatched accomplishments in STEM education.

The awards celebration was made possible by the evening’s keynote sponsors Ashland and DuPont,
as well as sponsors Agilent and LabWare. The STEM Educator Awards also represents an ongoing partnership between the Delaware STEM Council and the Delaware Foundation for Science and Mathematics Education (DFSME).

Delaware STEM Council Executive Director Daniel Suchenski began by introducing Jon Wickert, the Director of Career and Technical Education (CTE) and STEM Initiatives at the Delaware Department of Education, who provided opening remarks which thoughtfully framed the evening as part of a bigger picture of the universality of STEM and the power of human curiosity as a driver of progress.

See video clip here:

“We often overlook how STEM permeates every aspect of our life. STEM is more
than a set of academic and technical skills, it’s a way of sensing and experiencing
the world around us, and it involves curiosity, inquiry, problem solving, risk taking,
and, I think most importantly, wonder. Wonder permeates STEM
when we allow it to, and when we put it at the front.”

Throughout the evening, many of Delaware’s foremost elected representatives made appearances virtually to voice their enduring support for the STEM Council and DFSME’s mission, and to draw attention to the profound achievements and tireless work of the teachers being recognized.

“We know that the success of our students depends on having great teachers, so it’s critical to have teachers that inspire their students to dream big,” Governor John Carney said. “I want to congratulate all the award winners tonight. Thank you for all you do to keep Delaware on the cutting edge of innovation.”

Delaware Senators Tom Carper and Chris Coons also revisited this year’s ceremony in virtual fashion with messages of encouragement and praise for educators’ demonstrated commitment at the elementary, middle, and high school levels which continue to keep Delaware at the helm of STEM leadership.

“We need the next generation of scientists, researchers, engineers and more to help us navigate an increasingly competitive global world,” Carper said. “I’m grateful that you’re helping us in that effort; your efforts are important for our country and for our planet.”

Senator Chris Coons likewise evoked a bright vision for the advancement of STEM and innovation in Delaware, in setting forth an inspiring future of opportunities which STEM educators are actualizing through their work.

“I went on to be a chemistry major in college and to have a career where for eight years I worked for a materials-based science company, and got to see the excitement of STEM in action,” Coons said, drawing from his own pursuits in STEM prior to his political career. “STEM provides purpose, productivity, and a chance to be a part of changing our world in positive ways. And I’m convinced that Delaware is uniquely poised to be a regional, if not national, leader in STEM.”

Later in the evening, Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester, in emphasizing the invaluable significance of Delaware’s role as a STEM leader, continued to drive home the theme that STEM permeates all aspects of daily life

“A trip to Mars, baking a cake, and writing an artificial intelligence program; what do all of these have in common?” Rochester asked. “STEM. And whether it’s preparing the next generation of STEM leaders, training our current STEM workforce, or giving those young people who wouldn’t pursue STEM [otherwise] the careers and skills that they need to succeed, you are shaping the world and our future.”

The presentation of awards began with the Certified Educators Awards. At the elementary school level, Jaime Swartz of John M. Clayton Elementary School, and one of five Delaware finalists for the 2022 Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching, was awarded the first place prize for implementing the Project Lead the Way Launch Program.
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Wendy Turner, an educator at Mount Pleasant Elementary School and 2017 Delaware Educator of the Year, received the second place Certified Educator Award for developing a program, in a 5-year partnership with the Delaware Center for Horticulture, which provides a hands-on, outdoor STEM learning experience focused on dendrology, or the study of trees.

See video clip here:

In the Community STEM Educator Award category, three different projects encompassing disparate pursuits in STEM equity, engineering, and robotics received recognition. The award, which recognizes community-focused educators who may not operate in a traditional classroom setting, was presented by former award recipient, Wilmington Urban STEM Initiative founder, and “STEM Queen” Jacqueline Means.

At the elementary school level, the award was given to Girls Tech Together, a STEM education and equity nonprofit founded by sibling duo Divita and Arnav Taduvayi.

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Kristen and Milton Melendez received a Community STEM Educator Award at the middle school level for Engineer Early, a nonprofit that provides engaging and interactive STEM experiences through the distribution of hand-crafted and curated  STEM kits.

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Finally, a dynamic team of educators composed of John Larock, Brandi Mycoff, Joseph Perrotto, Louis Rossi, Brian West, and Richard Schlack represented MOE (Miracle of Engineering) Robotics, a team that competes in regional FIRST Robotics Competitions and that champions a mission of “gracious professionalism” in the areas of competitive STEM. They received the Community STEM Educator Award at the high school level.

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DFSME’s 2022 Jon Manon STEAM Award was presented by DFSME Executive Director Randy Guschl and was awarded to a six-strong team of educators from the Caesar Rodney School District for Odyssey of the Mind, a creative activity and problem solving nonprofit that participates in tournament competition. Team members include Tara Faircloth, Christine Alois, Carolyn Bush, Kendra Dechenes, Tracy Fennemore, and Jennie McMahon.

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The Jon Manon award uniquely recognizes a team of educators and, in doing so, spotlights the importance of collaborative team efforts in reaching new heights in STEM education that could not be reached alone. The award also carries with it a cash prize for teams to continue to build upon the successes of their programs.

The ceremony concluded with the spotlighting of a COVID-founded startup based in Wilmington leading a path forward for the next generation of STEM leaders, Futures First Gaming (FFG), a Delaware-based tech, media, entertainment, and e-sports organization working with youth to realize a futuristic, equitable, career-focused, and STEM-centric vision.

“Since 2020, we have been fostering e-sports here in Delaware, with the goal of shepherding more youth, especially our Black, brown, and girl gamers, into exploration of technology careers,” FFG CEO and co-founder Stephen Sye said.

In live attendance at Buena Vista was Lieutenant Governor Bethany Hall-Long, a close supporter and Honorary Co-Chair of the Delaware STEM Council, who offered closing remarks.

See video clip here:

“As a professor and as a nurse who gets to live and see the implications
of science translated into health outcomes, and into
our community, our pursuit of STEM education is critical – and it is amazing.
I would not miss being here in person…
I am honored to have this opportunity each and every year.”

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. STEM Educators can expect the application process for the 9th Annual Awards to be open soon.


Jan Castro is a writer, University of Delaware alum, and native Delawarean who has been a proud student of Delaware educators.