The 4th Annual Delaware STEM & Math Equity Conferences:
“Cultivating Equitable Climates of Learning”
By Jan Castro

On October 14 and 15, the STEM and Math Equity Conferences were held for the fourth consecutive year as over 500 educators and attendees from throughout the state and beyond joined together to advance the mission of cultivating and promoting more equitable climates of learning in the spaces of science, technology, engineering, and math education.

The magnitude, ambition, and success of the conferences were a result of the collaboration of many of the state’s biggest advocates for STEM equity, including the Delaware Department of Education (DDOE), the Delaware STEM Council, the Delaware Foundation for Science and Mathematics Education (DFSME), the Delaware Math Coalition (DMC), the Delaware Council of Mathematics Leaders, and the Forum to Advance Minorities in Engineering (FAME).

The conferences would also have not been possible without the continued support of both recurring and new sponsors, including Labware, DuPont, Croda, Mount Aire, Ashland, The Math Learning Center, Delmarva Power, Verizon, Bloom Energy, Heinemann, the Delaware Afterschool Network (DEAN), ACS Delaware, Science is Fun, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Amplify.

Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Mark Holodick began the first day of conferences by setting the tone for the two-day Equity Summit.
“These conferences provide an opportunity for us to come together around a single focus,” Dr. Holodick said. “We have to ensure that what we put in front of our children positions them for success within and beyond our schools, and that every student has access to high quality curricular materials and high quality instruction.”

October 14: Delaware Math Equity Conference

Dr. Holodick also introduced keynote speaker Dr. Tanji Reed Marshall. Serving as the Director of P-12 Practice at The Education Trust and a Principal Consultant of Liaison Educational Partners, LLC, Dr. Marshall is a national-level speaker and agent of change in education whose work centers around addressing complex issues of educational equity.
“If you don’t know that equity is everywhere and equity is everything, the mere fact that I am being translated to ensure that folks that are hard of hearing or deaf is an indication that equity is everywhere and equity is everything,” Marshall said, acknowledging the conference’s sign language translators. “The mission is to empower every learner with the highest quality education through shared leadership, innovative practices, and exemplary services. Embedded in that is this notion: That equity is everywhere and equity is everything.”

Following these introductions, attendees were given the opportunity to explore a diverse selection of equity focuses from over 20 different breakout rooms led by educators, leaders, and advocates. These topics broadly ranged from “Addressing Systemic Equity Challenges” and “Promoting Equitable Teaching in the Mathematics Classroom,” to “Empowering Leaders: Supporting Access to Deeper Learning for All.”
At mid-day, Stanford University’s Dr. Jo Boaler, a professor of mathematics and published author specializing in mathematics reform and data science, joined attendees in delivering the second keynote address entitled, “Important Ideas for Equitable Mathematics Outcomes and Strategies for Leading Change.” Shortly after, Dr. Pam Seda delivered the final keynote address, “Let it Go! Why Releasing Control is an Equity Issue,” ending the day on a strong note. As a thirty-year veteran of mathematics education and founder of Seda Educational Consulting LLC, Dr. Seda’s closing messaging sought to disrupt conventional pedagogical frameworks that emphasized control and, in doing so, empower students with positive mathematics learning experiences.

“With all these expectations that are placed on teachers, it’s very tempting to try to control every aspect of the learning process,” Dr. Seda said. “Who really controls the learning? And, if we think about it, where does learning take place? It takes place inside the heads of our children; that’s where learning happens. So, can we really control the learning? I don’t think so, I think our students are the ones that ‘drive that truck.’”
October 15: Delaware STEM Equity Conference.

The STEM Equity Conference, which took place the following day, offered a continuation of the critical equity dialogue through five unique panel discussions consisting of STEM leaders from all spaces, from DDOE, K-12, and higher education institutions, to the business and community side, including voices from DuPont, Ashland, DEAN, and FAME.

Alongside Delaware STEM Council Executive Director Daniel Suchenski, Lt. Governor Bethany Hall-Long, a longtime supporter of the equity conferences, welcomed attendees and encouraged them in the importance of the work in which they engage with throughout the conferences.

“Everybody here understands that whether it’s K-12, higher education, or workforce redevelopment, that we have to get it right with equity,” Hall-Long said. “I want you to just jump right in, roll up the sleeves, continue to brainstorm, and come out of this session with additional roadmap steps. But let’s really put the lens on equity. On behalf of the state, the governor, and myself, thank you for what you’re doing.”

A series of virtual clips from STEM leaders from across the country also set the tone for the day, including greetings from Bruce Alberts, a prominent biochemist and National Medal of Science recipient; Freeman Hrabowski III, President Emeritus of the University of Maryland Baltimore County; and Bassam Shakhashiri, an educator and chemist, former ACS president, and founder of Science is Fun.
“Our role in the classroom and in the community is to engage everyone, to be inclusive, to be inviting. To enjoy the beautiful chemical world that we live in and to help protect our planet,” Shakhashiri “We must do this for the common good.”

Addressing “What STEM Equity Success Looks Like”, panel leaders included Jon Wichert and Tonyea Mead (DDOE), Tina Mitchell (DSU), Milton Muldrow (WilmU), Andrea Gardner (Discovery Ed), and Matt Krehbiel (OpenSciEd). In the afternoon, Business and Community STEM Educators addressed “Beyond the Curriculum, What’s it Going to Take to Promote Student Success in STEM?” with panel leaders including Carolmarie Brown (Ashland), Alexa Dembek (DuPont), Regina Sidney-Brown (DEAN) and Don Baker (FAME).

The conferences ultimately concluded with closing remarks by DDOE’s Dr. Cora Scott, “Challenging Ourselves to Take the Next Bold Step.”
For the full day’s events of the Oct. 14 Math Equity Conference and bios of speakers, click here.

To access the October 15 STEM Equity Agenda with live links to a video of the conference and to the videos and bios of our drop-in speakers, click here.

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

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 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.

The STEM and Math Equity Conferences, a two-day series of virtual professional development sessions was held October 8-9, following the immense success of last year’s conferences.

This year continued to build upon the body of work to address STEM equity in the state and beyond, an initiative which the Delaware STEM Council launched in 2019. The Council has since sought to preserve a forum where these complex yet necessary conversations can be shared, particularly in the virtual era of COVID-19.

The event was made possible thanks to major sponsors Labware, Heinemann, and Verizon, as well as the American Chemical Society (ACS) Delaware Local Section,, the Delaware Afterschool Network (DEAN), DuPont, Delmarva Power, and Bloom Energy.

In addition to the Delaware STEM Council, the conferences represent a collaborative effort between the Delaware Foundation for Science and Mathematics Education (DFSME), the Forum to Advance Minorities in Engineering (FAME), the Delaware Math Coalition (DMC).

The conferences began with Day 1’s Math Equity Conference, which was kicked off with opening remarks from Governor John Carney and State Secretary of Education Susan Bunting, both of whom have consistently been ardent advocates of Delaware STEM and the STEM Equity mission.

This introduction was followed by Dr. Nicol Lee Turner, a Senior Fellow and Director of Governance Studies at the Brookings Institute’s Center for Technology, whose keynote address touched upon the critical inequities which exist outside of the classroom. Specifically, as the shift to virtual learning has exposed the striking disparities in students’ access to basic technological tools and infrastructure, Turner demonstrated the many ways in which the pursuit of equity in STEM education must transcend the four walls of a classroom.

“We have to ensure that our mantra for the 21st century is ‘no child left offline,’” Turner said. “How we handle the digital divide and the digitally invisible is how we are going to handle education moving forward.”

Furthermore, unique to the Math Equity Conference agenda was the opportunity for attendees to directly participate in equity exercises and impactful conversation through a diverse program of breakout sessions.

The breakout sessions featured over 28 mathematics educators and leaders who provided insight, facilitated discussions, and, alongside participants, closely examined themes of “Addressing Systemic Equity Challenges;” “Promoting Equitable Teaching in the Mathematics Classroom;” and “Empowering Leaders: Supporting Access to Deeper Learning for All.”

The Math Equity Conference was highlighted with another keynote address from Dr. Michael Flynn, the Director of Math Programs at Mt. Holyoke College. In his session “Powerful Moments in Math Class”, Flynn explored strategies to create memorable learning experiences and identity-defining moments through the lens of mathematics education.

“We want our lessons and learning experiences to leave long-lasting impressions on those with whom we work. We want to empower those with whom we work with a belief that they too are math capable. When we understand the psychology behind memories, learning, and identity, we can leverage that knowledge to design powerful moments for adults and students alike.” – Dr. Michael Flynn, Director of Math Programs at Mt. Holyoke College

The STEM Equity Conference took place on Day 2 and offered a series of four discussions featuring experts, practitioners, and advocates from across the state, one of them being Lt. Governor Bethany Hall-Long, a life-long and fervent champion of STEM, who returned to continue support for the Equity Conferences.

 “There is nothing more important that we can do than to educate
our young minds about the potential of STEM.
With the STEM work that we are doing in Delaware,
I am touched by how much we are making a difference.”

– Bethany Hall-Long, Lieutenant Governor, Delaware

Following this introduction was a special encounter between two prominent science communicators, public figures, and trailblazers, Jackie Means, the founder of the Wilmington Urban STEM Initiative and a sophomore medical diagnostics major at the University of Delaware, and Dr. Bassam Shakhashiri, a professor, chemist, former ACS president, and host of his own seasonal PBS special, which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary.

Surrounded by flasks and test tubes filled with colorful liquids and bubbling dry ice, Shakhashiri, sporting a “Science is Fun” t-shirt, had prepared a series of scientific demonstrations to illustrate and discuss with Means the inherent fun in science and STEM education.

“The language in which we speak about what we’re doing and what we’re teaching is really important, especially with kids,” Means said. “It is important how we talk about STEM because that’s how [kids] will develop and interpret things for the rest of their lives. They’ll internalize that and keep that positive connotation, hopefully, as they think about STEM as they grow older.”

The conversion between Shakhashiri and Means further meditated on the power of engaging students and individuals by connecting their natural curiosities and scientific inquiries with the larger picture of society and daily life, consequently imbuing such connections with lasting meaning and inspiration, an impact that can be had both in the classroom and beyond.

 “We have an awesome responsibility to teach our students very important skills. But far more important than anything else is our responsibility to convey an attitude about the nature of science, and the beauty of engaging in scientific explorations.”
– Dr. Bassam Shakhashiri, Science Is Fun

As featured Speaker of the day, Dr. Jo Boaler, professor of mathematics and noted author, shared her presentation “The Role of Data Science in School Mathematics.” Boaler’s bold research involves the importance and emergence of data science being incorporated across classes including math, science, statistics, and computers for K-12 education. Currently working at local and national levels, she emphasized how the data revolution has transformed modern life and it’s time we bring data literacy to our education system.

 “If our schools are to succeed in preparing data-literate citizens, then they will have to begin by rethinking the K-12 mathematics curriculum. It won’t be sufficient just to add a new unit or two to the existing course of study. If we’re serious about giving meaningful attention to data science, that should prompt us to ask a fundamental question: In the 21st century, what kinds of mathematics do our students actually need to learn?” – Dr. Jo Boaler, Stanford University

Boaler concluded with the concept that expanding the mathematics pathway to include data science will expand access to mathematics that prepare students to answer important and relevant questions.

Discussion topic “Tools for Fostering an Inclusive and Diverse Classroom Community” was facilitated by Lakia Belcher, Director of Education and Strategic Outreach at FAME, Inc. Belcher presented practical nuggets that can help educators tap into diverse student backgrounds while building equity in the classroom.

Belcher talked candidly about how to recognize and overcome one’s microaggressions. Microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages. Belcher shared examples of how to acknowledge and avoid microaggressions in an effort to strengthen a more equitable classroom and beyond.

The conference weekend concluded with panelists exploring the “M in STEM” – rethinking and reframing mathematics skills for the future Delaware STEM workforce. Panelists included Hiral Antala, IT Project Manager from Christiana Care, Ryan Harrington, Associate Director, Delaware Data Innovation Lab, and Dr. Jamila Riser, Executive Director of the Delaware Math Coalition. The roundtable discussion was lead by Luke Rhine, Director of Career & Technical Education and STEM Initiatives at the Delaware Department of Education.

“I love the idea of creating meaning and using mathematics to solve, not problems – not solving for x – but things that will directly impact the decisions that people will make tomorrow, the decisions that policymakers will make in our next legislative session,” said Rhine. “And these decisions have very real implications for the communities in which we live.”

Attendance totaled in record numbers over the course of both conferences, with many participants returning five-star feedback.

All are encouraged to continue to meaningfully engage in the Delaware STEM ecosystem and community by attending the Seventh Delaware STEM Educator Awards, which will be held on November 4, 2021 from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m.

All are encouraged to continue the conversations surrounding equity and Delaware STEM by attending the 7th Delaware STEM Educator Awards, which will be held in October 2022.

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

The Sixth Annual Delaware STEM Educator Awards ceremony was held virtually and hosted live at Buena Vista Country Estate in New Castle, Delaware on March 4, 2021. A collaborative effort between the Delaware STEM Council and the Delaware Foundation for Science and Mathematics Education (DFSME), the ceremony has once again gathered together STEM educators, advocates, and leaders from across the state to recognize Delaware’s best in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education.

The awards celebration was made possible by the evening’s title sponsor, Ashland, as well as sponsors DuPont, Agilent, LabWare, Verizon, and Spekciton Biosciences LLC.

In previous years, the Council and DFSME held a day-long Delaware STEM Symposium that culminated in the ceremonies of the Delaware STEM Educator Awards. However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this year’s symposium was instead conducted virtually this past October as a series of equity conferences that continued and stimulated conversations on equity and inclusion in the Delaware STEM ecosystem.

This year’s awards ceremony, now a separate event which has also gone virtual for the first time in its history, signaled a profound milestone for educators who are nearing the end of an unprecedented and taxing school year – one which has been fraught with novel and unforeseen challenges. With nation-wide school closures and the complete transition to remote learning, teachers and students alike have been forced to rethink education and to find the opportunity amidst the chaos.

The award ceremony’s keynote speaker, Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting, honored teachers who have gone through the gauntlet of remote learning obstacles, only to have their unwavering commitment to their students and STEM be reaffirmed by their sheer excellence as educators.

“Our focus on the power of these educational superstars to expose students to experiences that will unleash their individual potentials, and thus light the path toward a brighter future, is truly commendable, and definitely merits our applause,” Bunting said.

Throughout the evening, additional Delaware leaders and elected officials also checked in via video correspondence to share their sentiments and support for the educators, sponsors, and those working hardest in the Delaware STEM community.

“This school year looks a lot different than in years past, but we need to continue to recognize the importance of STEM education in our state,” Governor John Carney said. “Those being honored tonight are perfect examples of the innovative, dedicated educators we value here in Delaware.”

Senators Tom Carper and Chris Coons also addressed attendees during the ceremony. Coons, who studied chemistry as an undergraduate and comes from a STEM background, used his time to thank teachers and parents for their continued engagement and resilience, and to recognize the power of STEM as a synergistic force which can at once uplift the state’s youth, education system, and economy.

“This is a one-of-a-kind event that helps make STEM durable and strong in our state,” Coons said. “This event unites K-12 educators to collaborate and share ideas; fosters a culture of growth and innovation in our state; broadens access for Delawareans to pursue advanced degrees in STEM; and helps to build the STEM workforce of the 21st century.”

Delaware STEM Council Co-Chairs Teri Quinn Gray and Jud Wagner appeared live from Buena Vista to introduce the evening’s various speakers and to reveal the Certified STEM Educator Award winners across the elementary, middle, and high school levels. First place winners in each category received up to $6,000 in unrestricted cash prizes.

At the elementary school level, 4th grade teacher Leona Williams was awarded for her work at Forwood Elementary School in the Brandywine School District.

A dynamic team of four teachers from P.S. DuPont Middle School, which included Samuel Fawks, Stephen Lee, Stella Evans, and Anarie Rio, was selected as the recipient of the educator award at the middle school level.

At the high school level, three separate winners were recognized for their excellence in STEM education. 1st place was awarded to Rebecca Sheahan, an agriculture educator from McKean High School. A tie for 2nd place was shared by Melanie Mundell, a biotechnology instructor at Newark Charter Junior/Senior High School, and Elise Knable, a Career & Technical Education (CTE) instructor at Caesar Rodney High School.

Following these awards, a new honor, the Inaugural Community STEM Educator Awards, was debuted with the intention of recognizing community-focused educators who may not operate in a traditional classroom setting. The new awards were presented by DFSME board member P. J. Simon.

“We know that learning happens everywhere, and so does teaching,” Simon said. “It happens formally, and informally. It happens at the school, and on weekends. It happens during the summer, and it happens during a pandemic – especially during the pandemic.”

Jacqueline Means, the “STEM Queen,” was announced as the first recipient of the Community STEM Award, which she received for her contributions to STEM education at the elementary school level. As the founder of the Wilmington Urban STEM Initiative and a neuroscience student at the University of Delaware, Means has been a long-standing voice and inspiration for Delaware STEM advocacy and equity.

At the middle school level, Deborah Liczwek was recognized for her work as the Director of Elementary and Middle School Educational Outreach at S.T.R.I.D.E., the Science and Technology Research Institute of Delaware. Liczwek is also a former research manager at DuPont.

Another inaugural award, the Jon Manon STEAM Education Award, was debuted and presented by DFSME executive director Randy Guschl. The award category uniquely recognizes a team of educators who achieve outstanding accomplishments in coordinating, planning, and executing their programs. The award also carries with it a $1,000 cash prize.

The first ever Jon Manon STEAM Education Award was given to an interdisciplinary team of seven teachers at William Penn High School consisting of Chris Wellborn, Megan Bone, Armando Caro, Kim Davis, Mark McKenzie, Lars Jensen, and Crystal Samuels.

With new awards debuted and winners revealed, Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester joined the festivities to provide reflections on the immeasurable importance of Delaware educators.

“As so many students across Delaware are now relying on virtual learning, this pandemic has shown us how even more important our educators are,” Rochester said. “Teachers across our state have amazed me with creative and innovative solutions that make virtual learning go as smoothly and effectively as possible. Teaching STEM is as important now more than ever.”

Delaware Lieutenant Governor Bethany Hall-Long also joined in person to wrap up the evening with closing thoughts. As a STEM veteran and professor, a trained nurse, and an honorary chair of the Delaware STEM Council, Hall-Long offered words of encouragement for the state’s impressive team of hardworking STEM teachers.

“It takes a village to come together, to uplift, to educate our children,” Hall-Long said. “So, to the educators who ponder throughout this challenging year with online classes, ‘Am I making a difference?’ You are making a difference, and we all say thank you.”

The evening of celebrations would not have been possible without Delaware STEM Council Executive Director Dan Suchenski’s continued commitment to the mission of Delaware STEM and its educators.

“This has been an exceptional year for the Delaware STEM Educator Awards,” Suchenski said. “The quality of the teachers applying, the expansion of the awards to include community educators, and the diligence of our partners and sponsors is truly impressive. After a year that has generated an enormous amount of uncertainties, I am humbled to see so many Delawareans coming together to make the sixth annual awards ceremony so successful for our educators, who work tirelessly for our students across the state.”

As the Council and DFSME look forward to the Seventh Annual Delaware STEM Symposium and Educator Awards ceremony, slated for October and November 2021 respectively, the evening’s ceremony concluded with a reminder to all Delaware educators that the application for the 2021 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. The application process for the 7th Annual Awards is now open.


Jan Castro is a senior English and geography major at the University of Delaware and a writer for the University’s Horn Entrepreneurship program. He is a Hockessin, Delaware native and has been a proud student of Delaware educators.

The STEM and Math Equity Conferences, a series of back-to-back virtual professional development events on empowering all students as thinkers and doers of STEM, were held online on October 9-10, 2020.

The event was sponsored by the Delaware STEM Council, the Delaware Foundation for Science and Mathematics Education (DFSME), the Forum to Advance Minorities in Engineering (FAME), the Delaware Math Coalition (DMC), and Delaware Technical Community College. Additional sponsors included DuPont, Verizon, LabWare, and Spekciton Biosciences LLC.

The conferences follow the lead of last year’s Fifth Annual Delaware STEM Symposium, which took on a theme of equity and helped to kick off the ongoing initiative to address inequities in Delaware STEM and STEM education.

Additionally, the STEM and Math Equity Conferences represent the culmination of sustained efforts to prioritize a forum for these necessary and meaningful conversations on equity in STEM. This is particularly true in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, which postponed original plans to hold these virtual conferences as an in-person gathering this past April. Subsequently, conference organizers and sponsors have demonstrated a resilience and commitment to equity in their unwavering pursuit of this mission.

Jamila Riser is one such agent of change which the equity conferences would not have been possible without. As a veteran Delaware educator and the Executive Director of DMC, Riser has led a state-wide alliance of educational partners and organizations in the pursuit of professional learning experiences that advance teaching and learning practices in mathematics.

At the STEM Equity Conference, Riser was awarded the inaugural Armbrecht Award for Outstanding STEM Advocacy, for her dedication to high quality STEM education for all Delaware students. The award is given in memory of former DFSME Executive Director, Ross Armbrecht.

“It’s been incredibly gratifying to work with the leaders who have come together to support not only today’s work, but who have clearly demonstrated that this is their calling,” Riser said. “During my 34 years as an educator I have never been more convinced that true progress is possible.”

Prominent Delaware state representatives also attended the STEM Equity Conference, including State Secretary of Education Susan Bunting and Lieutenant Governor Bethany Hall-Long.

“Equity is an integral component of achieving the STEM mission; more than an initiative and beyond a moral imperative,” Bunting said. “Equity is our internal, external, and our actionable commitment.”

The conference also featured a dialogue, entitled “Accepting Truth: Listen, Reflect, and Connect,” between keynote speakers  Jinni Forcucci of the Delaware Department of Education and Dontez Collins of Cape Henlopen High School. The two award-winning educators’ relationship goes back to Sussex Tech, where they once shared a classroom together as teacher and student.

Forcucci articulated the importance of celebrating identity and differing perspectives. She also advocated for the power of emotional vulnerability as a prerequisite to having the open conversations which are necessary to advance a more equitable educational environment. Collins also shared an honest account of his experiences as a Black educator in STEM, and his journey to overcome discriminatory encounters where his truth was either interrogated or suppressed.

This thoughtful dialogue was followed by a student panel that brought to the forefront student experiences, and championed the importance for educators to elevate and listen to student voices. The panel was moderated by Monique Martin, who guided discussion as students shared stories on racial trauma and discrimination within school environments.

The Math Equity Conference which took place the following day also featured an opening keynote from Dr. Amanda Jansen, a professor of mathematics in the School of Education at the University of Delaware. As the author of Rough Draft Math, Jensen’s keynote reflected on ways to rehumanize the classroom, specifically highlighting the potential to advance equity and student engagement through the adoption of rough draft thinking within mathematics pedagogy.

Both conferences also afforded attendees with ample opportunities to actively participate in equity exercises through various strands and breakout sessions offered across both days. Topics included addressing systemic equity challenges; promoting equitable teaching in STEM classrooms; and supporting access to deeper learning for all by empowering leaders.

The breakout sessions featured over 25 educators who provided insight, facilitated discussions, and engaged with participants on equity topics. Attendees closely examined such concepts as implicit and explicit biases, representation and diversity in STEM, and active antiracism practices.

The Math Equity Conference concluded with a plenary session from Dr. Imani Goffney, an Assistant Professor of Mathematics Education at the University of Maryland, College Park. Goffney encouraged attendees to use Wakanda, the fictional African nation from Marvel Comics’ Black Panther film, as a metaphorical aid with which to begin imagining the rich potential for equitable and empowering classroom spaces for Black and Brown students.

The STEM Equity Conference concluded with a final discussion which centered around moving forward with the “new normal” in Delaware STEM education, as Delaware STEM Council Co-Chair Teri Quinn Gray described. Gray outlined what she identified as a “triple threat” of national reckonings, with COVID-19, economic instability, and, underscoring it all, racism and social justice issues which presently come to the forefront of the new normal.

Lt. Governor Bethany Hall-Long also joined the conference for the day’s conclusion to offer final reflections alongside Gray, Riser, FAME Program Director Lakia Belcher, and Randy Guschl, Executive Director of DFSME.

“We are on the right train, we just have to keep the locomotion going,” Hall-Long said of Delaware’s STEM and STEM Equity initiatives. “We are full-speed ahead. STEM learning and STEM equity fuse a real pathway to opportunity and prosperity.”

This final discussion also reflected upon the special opportunity that has emerged to define exactly what the new normal is, specifically in regard to approaches to STEM pedagogy and the challenges of virtual learning. Speakers engaged with critical questions: How can we challenge longstanding narratives in STEM and mathematics that are barriers to equity, and how can we engage in meaningful work and lifelong endeavors that disrupt current inequities at a systemic level?

“It’s important that we start to look at STEM and STEAM as not just a school thing – this is a life thing,” Belcher said. “This is something that all students can engage in, from K to gray, because education never stops… It’s going to take all of us from all walks of life to do the work.”

During the course of both conferences, attendance totaled over 300 persons across both days, with many participants demonstrating enthusiastic and supportive engagement and returning overwhelmingly positive feedback after the conferences.

“This was an incredible day,” one attendee wrote in the feedback submission. “I am filled with emotion as the day comes to a close: An emotional high because the content, speakers, and community inspire me. Emotional because this is such a complex and important focus for our community. Every day and every experience can help us forge new ground. We can and will and are making a difference!”

All are encouraged to continue the conversations surrounding equity and Delaware STEM by attending the Sixth Annual Delaware STEM Educator Awards, which will be held early in 2021. More information will be forthcoming.

Jan Castro is a senior at the University of Delaware, studying English, geography, 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 PR writing and magazine writing.

The Delaware Foundation for Science and Mathematics Education (DFSME) enjoys a twenty-five-year history of promoting world-class Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Education in Delaware, including working to ensure access to a state-of-the-art STEM education for all of Delaware’s students.  As a coalition of representatives from K-12 and higher education, business, and state government, we are deeply concerned about the potential damage the current pandemic crisis may be doing to efforts to achieve educational equity in STEM instruction.  In response to ongoing horrific incidents of institutional violence against people of color in our country, we are even more aware of the imperative to achieve social justice in our education system.  Indeed, we hope that our education system can respond to this moment as an inflection point by moving forward toward a fully equitable “new normal” in STEM education.

One of DFSME’s core goals is to help build a coordinated STEM ecosystem by forging a stronger interface between the business and education communities in Delaware. We believe that this unique collaborative partnership should strive to envision the possibilities for creating a more powerful, intrinsically engaging STEM education for all of Delaware’s K-12 students. As a concerned community, we should begin by assessing what Delaware educators have learned as they have attempted to provide effective online instruction this past spring and what essential elements of face-to-face interactions were missing.  It would be a wasted opportunity if our educational system fails to develop a more equitable hybrid model of STEM education post-pandemic.

Data on our students’ differential levels of connectivity makes it abundantly clear that it is imperative that we work to ensure broadband access for all of Delaware’s students from north to south, in rural, suburban and urban communities. It has become painfully obvious during the past three months as schools and universities turned to a massive experiment in online instruction, just how unequal reliable access to the internet is in our state.  Likewise, not all students have the devices they will need to power online learning in the future.  Achieving equity in these two components of learning technology will require contributions from both private and public sectors and should build upon the early innovations already undertaken in our state such as wiring public libraries for local WIFI access and the strengthening of broadband access.  

Although universal access to learning technologies is a necessary first step, it will not bring full equity.  As a system, we need to leverage the best ideas that are emerging from the crucible of experimentation in online learning by our K-16 teachers over the past three months and be open to learning from business and other communities as well.  My personal experience in changing a UD mathematics class for K-8 teachers from in-person to online delivery hints at the possibility that synchronous online instruction can benefit some students who are normally underserved in a typical face-to-face classroom setting.  For example, the purposeful use of online environments like “breakout rooms” and shared electronic “whiteboards” may benefit a number of otherwise marginalized students, who, in a traditional classroom setting are often reluctant to “come to the board.”  There have been notable innovations in online teaching and learning pioneered here in Delaware as well as across the nation and we need to curate access to the best of these efforts.  Certainly, Delaware’s educators will need a considerable amount of professional development before we can optimize the possibilities of online / hybrid learning for all students.  That professional development should be a top priority for all of our educational institutions.

We must also maximize hands-on experiential instruction because “active learning” has been shown to support the achievement of all students, not just those who seem to prosper in lecture-based settings.  We can imagine how our schools and universities might reconfigure the precious time that our teachers and smaller groups of students could have in face-to-face learning environments.  This seems essential given the likelihood that, at least in the near term, Delaware may limit school-site learning hours to fewer days per week and fewer students per class.  We at DFSME would like to encourage the development of a hybrid learning system in which online learning both precedes and follows rich technology-intensive onsite learning.  It may well be that some teachers choose to manage this in-school learning while other teachers, who are becoming skilled at online instruction and for whom face-to-face instruction poses greater health risks, take on complementary roles in this new normal.

Finally, we must determine who will take the lead in this transition to a brighter future for STEM learning.  It is obvious that collaboration is more important now than ever.  Our partners from business have already begun to share their experiences about returning to work in safer spaces, and our STEM educators have learned many lessons, both positive and problematic, about engaging with their students online.  Together, we must ensure that this more powerful, better-focused hybrid suite of STEM learning experiences is provided for all of our students, not just the fortunate few who have always benefited from enhanced STEM instruction. This way, all students will have access to greater economic opportunities, and the Delaware workforce and economy will continue to grow. 

Please join us in this most pressing conversation about improving STEM education for all at this moment of national and global challenge and change given both the Covid-19 pandemic and a growing realization that people of color do not enjoy equal protections under the law nor equal advantages from our educational system.  For further information and to participate in this important discussion, please go to our website at


About the Author: Jon Manon, is President of The Board of Directors of The Delaware Foundation for Science and Mathematics Education

The 2016 cohort of Delaware STEM Educator Award winners and applicants included a team of six educators that developed a STEM-intensive makerspace; a Caesar Rodney High School educator who, alongside his students, represented Delaware at Samsung’s premiere STEM competition in New York City; and a veteran STEM teacher who used drones to introduce young girls to the range of STEM fields and career possibilities.

First place winners of the award – which recognizes teachers that demonstrate excellence, innovation, and passion in STEM education each year – received a one-time, unrestricted financial contribution as gratitude for their commitment to their students and to the advancement of STEM in Delaware.

Jeffrey Kilner, Science Teacher and Technology & Curriculum Coach at Indian River School District

Jeffrey Kilner placed first in 2016 for the Delaware STEM Educator Award for secondary education, as part of a larger team of six educators from Sussex Central High School. The team was comprised of a collective of teachers from science, technology, engineering, and math disciplines, who, under Kilner’s leadership, proposed and developed a vision for a student-led makerspace at the high school.

The premise of the makerspace, Kilner said, was to provide access to the technology, tools, and resources students needed to further pursue concepts derived from the classroom, or to venture to explore other ideas imagined outside of their coursework.

Can you elaborate a little more on some of the projects which came about from the makerspace your team created? “We actually started an after-school club where a few of the students who were up there in 2016, they were part of that, and we did some projects that weren’t directly connected to the curriculum. So one of the things we did was we built a drone using open-source plans on Thingiverse and 3-D printed materials. And we got it up and flying, and then had a little mishap last year so the kids are still working on rebuilding it.”

What other educators and roles were involved in the development of this makerspace? “Rob Gibson was kind of the technology [end]. Myself and Britta Cordrey were the science end, and Jill Oliva was the math end. And just in talking, trying to get it off the ground, we figured it would be good to have representation from all of the domains of STEM working on that project. And Kelly Deleon, she’s our school’s media specialist, and we’re in IB World Academy at Sussex Central, so she’s also the IB coordinator. So having her input there, to help see what kind of curricular connections would be there, was the idea then.”

What did you do with the funds from the award?
“So all of that went back into the makerspace for supplies. We ended up ordering a larger capacity 3-D printer. The Lulzbot Taz 6 was the make and model. We bought a bunch of programming kits, like Arduino boards. And they come with jumper wires and breadboards and servos and an activity book. And we have those still available to kids on a check-out basis, so they could check-out the kit, take it home, work on it, and then check it back in. Just some consumable stuff like filament for the 3-D printers… And it’s since expanded as well. Some of the other teachers and some of the other technology pathway areas have put some other tools in the space. We have a glowforge, it’s like a laser-powered cutter/engraver. It’s super cool.”

What are your recommendations for educators looking to get students engaged in STEM topics, or considering applying for the Delaware STEM Educator Awards? “I think the biggest one is to just keep an open mind. And have a plan, but be willing to change and adapt. Again, having a print in the education world, it’s challenging to find the time and the space to fit it into curriculum with all of the things that we have going on already as teachers. I think just being flexible and trying to be creative and innovative are the biggest things. Flexibility, innovation, and creativity.”

Kilner now works in the district’s office as a Technology Integration Coach for Indian River School District. Although he is no longer teaching at Sussex Central, he says that the makerspace that he helped found during his time at the school is still being utilized by students involved in the Technology Student Association (TSA) and other extracurricular STEM activities.

Nicole Morey, Math Teacher at Georgetown Elementary School Richard Messick, Computer Teacher at Georgetown Elementary School

Georgetown Elementary teachers Nicole Morey and Richard Messick placed first in 2016 for the Delaware STEM Educator Award for primary education. Together, Morey and Messick developed and co-coached a robotics team and club which eventually became highly successful in competition, ultimately leading the team to compete in the 2016 VEX IQ World Championships in Kentucky.

The program at Georgetown, Morey and Messick said, has also continued to strive to be inclusive of all students who demonstrate an interest in robotics, regardless of experience level. As opposed to other exclusively competitive robotics clubs and teams at the primary and secondary school level which hand-pick a select few students, the spectrum of introductory to competitive level programs offered by Morey and Messick are unique in this sense. Each year, around 67 applicants will be received into the robotics program, which runs year-round, Morey said.

Messick emphasized that although there are strong competitive elements to robotics, the importance of engaging students in this STEM-intensive field in a fun and positive way ultimately takes priority. Additional to the opportunity to compete in a robotics world championship, Messick said that the experience of exploring VEX Robotics1 alongside his students for the first time was also invaluable.

Can you talk more about your experience applying for the Delaware STEM Educator Awards, in which you both ultimately placed first in 2016?

Morey: “During the 2016 season, we were introduced to robotics. We started in the spring of 2015, if I’m remembering when we started correctly, so then we had the whole year of 2016. We were working with our robotics teams and our clubs and we entered a competition. And in March, one of our teams won the state competition in Dover, and we were able to win a bid to the world competition in Kentucky. So in this whole time that we were doing the competition, we, in turn, were writing this STEM award proposal. So to go through all of that and also to win the STEM award, it was a wonderful year. Just because we were seeing how much the kids were influenced by robotics in our school and that kind of experience, we kind of put that emphasis in our paper. Because they were excited, we were excited – everything just kind of fell into place that first year.”

Messick: “It was a very cool experience to go through the whole application, to put everything together. It was something that Travis Bower, who was assistant principal here, got us involved with. Once we got going, it was a lot of fun to put it all together, taking the time to see what we’re actually doing for the kids. And our [program] is a little different, we take all the kids that we can at the school rather than just handpicking a couple of teams… But it was just a very cool experience overall.”

What did you do with the funds from the award?

Morey: “We pumped money back into the STEM program here at Georgetown Elementary. And I believe Mr. Messick also pumped money into his computer class, here at the school as well. We just kind of split it, so I pumped money back into robotics.”

Messick: “The [VEX Robotics] kits are fairly expensive, they’re over $300 apiece. We each had money given to us separately. So after the taxes were taken out, we both put money back into the robotics program, and I teach in the computer lab so there are a couple things I need in the computer lab there. And then, of course, we took a trip to Hawaii, and Paris, haha. Nah, wasn’t quite that much money. But yeah, most of it went back to school stuff, the VEX IQ. I mean there are tables, there’s all kinds of stuff you need. You need the basic kits but then you also have the other parts so that you can get different operations with the robots, you can buy them separately.”

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

Morey: “Well first off, just the overall word of mouth from other kids. When they’re excited about something, other kids are excited about it. We were in the hallway for a while, and as we were doing our robotics, just because of space in our building, kids who walked by were like, ‘What is this?’ So they’re fascinated. So just stick with it, because it is frustrating, it is tough. However, it’s worth it. Learn as much as you can. Pick one platform – we do the VEX platform.”

Messick: “Especially with the elementary kids, like we work with, I think the biggest thing is to enjoy it. You can’t get too frustrated. I mean, the kids are learning about schematics, and trying to put together engineering journals, and that’s a lot to ask of the kids we have. So just not getting too upset, too worried over it. Just trying to enjoy what you’re doing. The kids typically have a really good time. I mean they can get frustrated, as the adults can too. I’d say the biggest thing is to enjoy it, not to get too hung up on the competition part of it. We were very lucky that we were able to have some success, but we were surprised as anyone that we did. But it’s just something you have to enjoy with the kids.”

In 2020, Messick and Morey are still continuing to offer the robotics program at Georgetown Elementary. And the program has expanded even further, with more students joining, as well as more teachers, including newer and younger educators, having assisted and stepped-up this past year, Messick described.

Central to their original philosophy for the program, Messick and Morey maintain that the opportunity to explore the STEM pillars through robotics remains open to any student who expresses an interest to get involved.

“We thought that was an important part too. If somebody wants to do it then we’ll figure out how to get them in here,” Messick said.

1 VEX IQ by VEX Robotics is a snap-together robotics system that incorporates all four pillars of STEM, and is designed to provide an accessible and introductory robotics package to students as early as the second grade. The standard VEX Robotics “Super Kit” includes handheld controllers, smart sensors, motors, batteries, and over 800 structural & motion components to construct robots from the ground-up.

Christopher Harris, AutoCAD and Technology Education Teacher at Caesar Rodney High School

In 2016, Christopher Harris applied for the Delaware STEM Educator Awards for the first time. Although entering into experience was somewhat intimidating at first, his students’ investment in the project, as well as their already comprehensive STEM knowledge base coming out of AutoCAD and technology pathways at Caesar Rodney, reassured Harris.

Although he did not receive first place at the Delaware STEM Educator Awards in 2016, Harris and his team of seniors had placed first in the state and among the top fifteen in the nation for Samsung’s annual Solve for Tomorrow STEM competition. In 2015, Harris and his group of students had the opportunity to represent Caesar Rodney High School and Delaware STEM in New York City.

What was the application process like? “So back in 2016, it was still the AutoCAD pathway, and we tried to do a lot of projects that brought in outside elements, such as math. They have to be able to calculate how to do the figures and come up with solutions to problems using the AutoCAD software. [The application process] kind of allowed me to show all the different things we do that maybe many people aren’t even aware of, even in local schools.”

What project was the focus of your 2016 application? “We had just recently finished a competition with Samsung Solve for Tomorrow, where some students worked in a group to modify a Power Wheels Jeep for a handicapped student in our Charleston Program, which is for students with disabilities. The student that they designed it for had cerebral palsy, so they didn’t have use of their legs. So they modified the jeep to be able to just be hand-controlled, by push-button. That was the big thing that we focused on that year.”

What kind of students were involved and what responsibilities did they have? “It was a team of seniors. It was three students that were dedicated on that project, that had completed my pathway and another technology pathway, so they had a lot of different skills that they were able to utilize. One of the students that was in my pathway was able to use her skills to 3D print some of the pieces to modify the jeep. Another student that took the technology pathway was able to solder the new buttons in himself, and figure out what were the appropriate buttons and devices to use.”

What are your recommendations for educators looking to get students engaged in STEM topics, or considering applying for the Delaware STEM Educator Awards? “I think the biggest thing is to find something that the students connect with. Find something that they’re interested in, because if they’re interested, then they’re more likely to put in the effort that’s required to do the projects the right way. So I’m kind of in a unique situation where my whole job is technology education, so we are constantly doing projects, and the students get to bring in their skills from math and science, and then we teach them the technology and engineering aspect so it kind of encompasses everything all in one. So it’s kind of built in naturally to the course. But the key thing is making the project something that they’re interested in, so that they can get to their potential. Or make it ambiguous enough so that they can make it to their interests. Expose them to new things because they might not know they’re interested.”

The impacts of the experience have been long-lasting for both Harris and the students involved. For one student in particular, whose first exposure with 3D modeling was through the project led by Harris, the experience was a defining moment. When she recognized the potential for engineering and design in serving persons with disabilities, she decided to pursue a career in prosthetics entering college, Harris said.

Cindy Isaacs, Exceptional Cognitive Enrichment Learning STEM Teacher at Indian River School District

2019 marked Cindy Isaacs 30th year of being an educator at Indian River School District. Through both her rich history of experience in STEM education and opportunities like the Delaware STEM Educator Awards, Isaacs finds herself in a unique position to assess community and student needs, she described.

Isaacs first applied for the Delaware STEM Educator Awards in 2016, with fellow educator and Exceptional Cognitive Enrichment Learning (ExCEL) STEM teacher, Dawn Keenan. Although
they did not place first that year, Isaacs was determined to reapply with an exciting new project in 2018.

The GET-GET Girls Program, an after-school program led by Isaacs which introduced a diverse group of 32 girls to a range of STEM fields and career possibilities, ultimately won first place that year.

What was the application process like? “Being a part of the Sussex County STEM Alliance, I had heard about the award. And when I went online and I looked at their goals and their definition for the awards, it kind of helped me in the process of realizing what was needed in our community. And having young girls involved in STEM was definitely a need in our community. So that process of actually going in and filling out the application, doing my write-up, and producing some videos to show evidence, it was very simple and straightforward, very practical. But again, I think their definition and the goals of the Delaware STEM Educators Award, it kind of helped me to see what was needed, so I could incorporate the same ideas into my program of the GET-GET Girls.”

What goals and community needs did you identify for this program? “GET-GET Girls is ‘Girls Engineer Tomorrow,’ and it was an after-school program, in two different schools that had high Hispanic populations, for exposing the girls to different types of engineering fields. To give them an understanding of the fun things that engineering could include.”

What kinds of activities were involved? “We did drones, and the girls were able to build different types of drones, use a laptop as a controller to fly them. They were real quick to realize that their redesign process was the majority of their time, in trying to get them to fly. Not everybody was successful, so they also learned that failure was a part of the learning process. We also had a drone expert, with his professional drone, explain what he does in the [agriculture] industry with the drones. And, also, what was amazing was that the drone expert was also able to go into all of the other engineering fields that are needed in the production of a drone; the technologies that are needed for drones.”

What impact did this have on young girls involved in the program, who were being exposed to STEM concepts and possibilities for the first time? “So the girls were learning that an engineer wasn’t just a mechanic who works on a car. That was the biggest misconception of these girls. I took a survey at the beginning, and they all wanted to be a teacher or a lawyer, a doctor. And in the end, they had done a total turnaround in their career choices. They had to choose the top five that they might like, based on interest, and they did a total turnaround. They had never heard of an engineer, or been exposed to the things that an engineer can do, or the process of building, creating, designing, failing, and trying again. So they were exposed to the engineering fields that are available, and that there are women out there in these careers. It expanded their STEM knowledge, definitely.”

What did you do with the funds from the award? “I was actually able to purchase three more of the drone kits, and I was able to purchase a more professional drone to be used by the highly qualifying drone-flyers. So it was a nice professional
one with a camera. I also reimbursed myself for the supplies that I purchased for the girls. We also did a chemical engineering activity, windmills, and things like that.”

What are your thoughts on the Delaware STEM Educator Awards as an opportunity for educators? “I just see the whole Delaware STEM Educator Awards as a great opportunity for all the educators that see a need, and want to provide STEM opportunities for our youth. Our Delaware educators are just so committed to servicing our students, in the pathways needed. And this award is just a way to say, ‘Hey, I see you, I appreciate your efforts.’ So it’s very good.”

What are your recommendations for educators looking to get students engaged in STEM topics, or considering applying for the Delaware STEM Educator Awards? “I think all educators need to be a part of other groups that are involved in STEM. And Sussex County has the Sussex County STEM Alliance, which is a great opportunity to hear more about STEM in our community and find out about activities that are going on to educate [students] with more STEM education. But, also, to make educators aware of awards such as the Delaware STEM Educator Awards. So definitely get involved in Sussex County, because the information gained will be bountiful.”

What importance do you find for women in STEM? “With the program, the GET-GET Girls, there is such a generation gap in the engineering and science fields, and I think the DSEA’s goals of targeting our females and our diverse population, is right on as far as trying to create a better process for new technologies that will allow these women to balance out the percentages of genders in our STEM fields.”

The Delaware STEM Council was created to oversee the evaluation and improvement of STEM education in Delaware schools. This is achieved through increasing engagement of students to pursue STEM careers, and through broadening 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 STEMoriented jobs. The Council also works to expand the STEM workforce in Delaware, and subsequently grow and attract STEM-related businesses to the state.

A follow-up of 2019’s Delaware STEM Equity Conference, entitled “Rehumanizing the Classroom: Empowering All Students as Thinkers and Doers of STEM,” will take place on April 24th, 2020. Register now.

The next iteration of the Delaware STEM Symposium & Educator Awards ceremony will be held in November 2020 and will be sponsored by Ashland Inc.

Ashland Inc. is 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 and awards ceremony.
For updates on future announcements for upcoming events and symposium dates and locations, further information and additional resources can be found at the official Delaware STEM Council website,

To register for this 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.

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.