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, Scifun.org, 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.

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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 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 https://dfsme.org/about-us/.

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

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 delawarestem.org, or visit their Facebook page for updates on the Council’s work in Delaware at facebook.com/DelawareSTEM.

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

  • 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 ashland.com to learn more.

About DFSME

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.

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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, https://delawarestem.org/.

To register for next year’s ceremony or to apply for the Delaware STEM Educator Awards, visit https://delawarestem.org/symposium-educator-awards/.

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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 Code.org, 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 Code.org 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 Code.org 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 https://delawarestem.org/symposium-educator-awards/.

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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.

Librarian Michelle Harris was the only elementary school educator to receive recognition at the 2015 STEM Educator Awards. She was presented with $500 to help start a STEM program for the library at Lulu Ross Elementary School, located in Milford, DE. The Delaware STEM Educator Award is given to a teacher that is passionate about STEM education, demonstrating exemplary innovation through their lessons and student interactions. In conjunction with the prize she was given by the STEM council, Harris was awarded with a second $500 accolade from Ashland Inc., which was used to purchase additional program materials. Although Harris did not place in the competition, the recognition and consolation compensation is an impressive accomplishment.

The other elementary school competitors did not have the same unique advantage as Harris. As the librarian, she interacts with students from each grade level. In an interview she explained what set her apart from the other educators.

“Probably the biggest thing that’s different is I have the opportunity to see all the students versus just one classroom of 30 kids. So, when you look at the fact that throughout the course of the year, 600 students, 600 plus students at this point, are having the opportunity to have different STEM lessons. It’s reaching every grade level, [every] background, girls, boys, the minorities; it touches base [with] everybody,” Harris said.

Harris worked as a librarian for 10 years in Smyrna, DE before transferring to her current position. For six weeks out of the school year she was able to work extensively with students from each grade. During that time they would work on a specific STEM unit. Instead of doing mini lessons, like the ones usually taught during the allotted 45 minute library sessions, Harris was able to spend more time on bigger projects, such as the third grade’s boat and bridge building lesson. Harris’ goal is to have a library program at Lulu Ross that can be as successful as the one she started while working in Smyrna. All of her winnings were spent on STEM focused materials to help jumpstart her aspiration.

Despite her obvious triumphs, Harris did not intend on becoming a STEM focused educator. In fact, before taking the library position at Smyrna, she was a language arts and social studies teacher. But, when her previous employers asked her to provide an additional course in the library, she looked to her husband for suggestions.

“We [said], ‘what else can we do with these kids?’ My husband teaches a STEM concentration. He’s the one that got me thinking about it,” Harris said.

Since the 2015 awards, Harris’ students, as well as her colleagues, are responding well to their new STEM project materials. The school’s art teacher, for example, has used the library’s new gravity kits with her classes. The exciting new items that were debuted last school year have some of the children already requesting specific lessons, Harris said.

“The best response I got from the [new] coding [lesson] was from a student. He took time to write me a note, and said that he did not really have any hobbies and he struggles to find things he likes, but he loves the coding. It was clear and simple ‘Thanks for introducing me to coding, I finally found something I like to do,’” Harris said.

Pleased with her students’ interest and new appreciation for STEM education, Harris hopes to continue to grow the budding program at Lulu Ross. With the new school year just beginning, she is excited to make learning fun for her kids. The STEM Educator’s award gave Mrs. Harris and the students at Lulu Ross elementary the materials and inspiration needed to learn and appreciate the importance of STEM education.

“I truly love what I teach. I really do,” Harris said.

 

My name is Mrs. Harris and I am the Librarian at Lulu Ross! I attended the University of Delaware and have spent the last ten years teaching in Smyrna. I enjoy traveling, fishing, visiting the beach, and playing with my two little girls. I also LOVE to READ. Books help me to escape to faraway places that otherwise I would never see.

Author:

Giavana Suraci is a senior strategic communications major at Temple University. She was born and raised in Philadelphia and plans to remain in the city. After graduation, she hopes to work for the Philadelphia Phillies in their public relations department.

This previous week on July 6th, I had the privilege to interview Travis Bower, currently the assistant principle at Georgetown Elementary in southern Delaware. Before Georgetown, Travis has worked in various school districts teaching middle school science, directing a Gifted Students program, and creating a science camp that uses common household chemicals to show kids how the brilliance of science can be found within their own homes. He has built his career upon a deep passion for STEM, most prominently seen through his love for robotics. While he considers it just a hobby, Travis is the creator of the VEX Robotics club in Manassas Park (who competes internationally) and brought the VEX platform to Georgetown where it continues to grow. Through robotics, he has positively influenced the lives of hundreds of young students and fueled their interests in STEM. Travis strongly believes that the future of STEM in Delaware is bright, and that the opportunity to invest in and build STEM culture is there. His passion is contagious, visible in his responses below. I hope you enjoy learning about his story as much as I did.

 

DSTEMWhat does STEM mean to you?

Travis: STEM to me is a misnomer, and I feel it should be STEAM, and include the arts. So much of the engineering and design process that has a strong foundation in creativity and ingenuity that we should really include the arts into the acronym. Part of the reason I love robotics is because it requires a certain aesthetic factor. Not only should a robot be functional, but each has a unique, artistic design that adds a whole new dimension of creativity and simulates the brain in a completely different way. To me, STEAM, or STEM is not just about subject matter, it is a way of thinking and problem solving that extends beyond the four areas that compose it. It is about problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration and communication that has existed for decades, but was set aside through the No Child Left Behind movement.

When I was in middle school, each year, we did a variety of projects that were cross-curricular and extended beyond the realms of each area. Looking back, those were STEM activities, and were some of the most memorable and meaningful lessons I learned. In education, we really need to continue our efforts to teach students to think and be critical of their ideas in efforts to strengthen their understandings, and be curious about how the world works.  By doing this, I think we will create well-rounded, lifelong learners that will be prepared for their futures.

 

DSTEM: How did you grow such a strong passion for education & teaching STEM?

Travis:  It has always been an interest of mine, and the methodology of STEM in education has really challenged me. I have always thought that students should be their own guide to their education, and it has really been something that I strive to teach. As educators, we want our students to innately be curious and to be driven to learn their entire life, and STEM provides that opportunity. One thing that I really enjoyed about teaching Science, and STEM at Selbyville Middle was the inquiry based learning approach that I used. Project Lead the Way is based on that model, and it really challenges students to think. It’s amazing to give students a problem to solve and have them find their own answer. It’s more fun for them, and more fun for me as a teacher. I strongly believe, if I’m not having fun teaching, they aren’t having fun learning. I tell my students all the time, I could teach you anything you want I just have to find a way to show it to you.

 

DSTEM: What role did teaching STEM play in shaping the trajectory of your career?

Travis: I’m a science teacher by training, and have always had a scientific curiosity.  When I first started teaching in Manassas Park, VA, I taught middle school science, and realized that the population I served was struggling with their performance in science. To try and help, I created a summer camp with a grant I received from the district’s education foundation to help reinforce the content I taught. I worked together with NSF and the local police department to help get the camp off the ground. Jokingly, I called it my “Kitchen Science Camp,” because despite its complexity everything I taught was using household chemicals (egg whites, toothpicks, strawberry DNA) and I could run a week long camp for less than $300.

I soon found myself in the role of the Gifted Coordinator for my school, and to add an inquiry-based curriculum, I piloted what was at the time Google’s App Inventor program with our middle school students. Since Google is open sourced and generally supportive of engineering, it was easy to apply to get into the Google market and give every student access to the software. I gave them a basic crash course in programming using the software and gave them the assignment of creating an app that we would showcase at our “tech symposium” at the end of the semester. Kids ran with it, using their creativity to make everything from gaming apps to one that alerts you when dinner is ready. The students loved it and we had a variety of district administrators come who were very impressed with our efforts. Overall it was a fantastic experience.

Shortly after, I met Denyse Carroll, who I met previously when she worked at Micron Technology, and really got me interested in Robotics. If you aren’t familiar with Denyse, she is a incredible person whose energy and passion is contagious. She has been a huge source of inspiration so far in my career. Denyse helped me start the VEX Robotics club in Manassas Park, and within two years, helped me build a program that was competing at the world level. She taught me about “coopertition,” and really how much is involved in STEM. Coopertition (cooperation and competition) is the idea that you help your competitors succeed so that the overall competition is stronger, and both parties are better off. The passion she shows for her students, and the undying determination for success that she instills in them is amazing, and I strive to be like that.

When I began looking for administrative positions, I found myself talking with Indian River School district, and really showed an interest in their robotics program at Selbyville Middle School. I laid out what I thought we could do to build the program, and before I knew it, I was packed and leaving Virginia for sandier places to teach. When I began at SMS, I had the idea of building the robotics program not just at SMS, but through the district and the state. My wife Mary has been supportive the entire time, and as soon as we moved to Delaware, she encouraged and helped me to start working on those goals.  She helped me organize a robotics tournament at SMS last year, and has been a great sounding board and motivator for the program I’ve been working on at GE.  My vision of making every school within IRSD having a STEM or robotics program is moving quite a long with her help and ideas. I’m working on creating programs at some of our elementary schools, and have brought robotics into our ExCEL program for fourth and fifth graders.

 

DSTEM: Robotics is clearly a passion of yours, why is robotics important to the education process and preparing students for future careers?

Travis:  My may reason for enjoying robotics so much is that it includes a variety of STEM skills. To me, it’s the best “bang for your buck”  In VEX, FLL or VEX IQ, not only do you use the design process to go through the creating of your robot, but you also need to know how to program your robot, which is a separate field of study.

At competitions, students learn need to give presentations to judges as well, which teaches them to be strong communicators and collaborators.  Judges look to see not only how well they use the design process, but also how they can communicate their ideas, and work well with their peers throughout all levels of the competition. Plus, when they are competing, students quickly learn how to adapt their robot, design or approach, which allows for quick thinking and problem solving.

 

DSTEM: Tell me a little about the program you’re developing for STEM students in robotics.

Travis: At Georgetown Elementary, we started a robotics program that primarily deals with students in 3rd -5th grade using the VEX IQ platform.  We had 70 applicants and were able to have two six-week sessions of 35 each. Working with Dickie Messick and Nicole Morey, we taught basic building and programming skills.

The governor visited our first session, and the students really had a good experience showing him what we did, and how interested they were in STEM.  We attended Del Tech’s STEM expo at the Owens’ campus, and held several parent nights to showcase our talents to our families.  It was really successful, and we are excited about next year.

 

DSTEM: Where do you see this program heading in the future? What is the future importance of robotics in Delaware education?

Travis:  Our program next year will expand to have more teams for a longer amount of time.  We’re looking to have 7 teams ready to compete, and will host the state’s first VEX IQ tournament on February 4th.  We’re hoping to have more than just our seven teams competing, and are trying to get other elementary schools in our district, as well as anyone who has a team throughout the state.  The top ranked team will earn a bid to compete at the VEX IQ World Championship in Louisville, KY in April.

I think by starting to have more events like this, we can really work to expand STEM programs throughout the state.  Mike Fitzgerald and Melvin D’Souza and I are trying to expand VEX programs throughout the state for Middle and High school, while trying to reach the younger students as well. If we can have more programs started within the state, we can really start to have schools consider and implement stronger STEM programs.

 

DSTEMYou were an award winner at last year’s STEM awards, what was that experience like and how has it helped you going forward?

Travis:  The whole experience with the award was exciting and humbling at the same time.  It felt great to not only be recognized by the Delaware STEM council, but also to meet my peers who are as dedicated to the cause as I am.  I’ve tried to connect with some of the other winners, and working with Rob Gibson, they now have a robotics program at Sussex Central, and are looking to have a competitive team next year.

As far as going forward, one thing has proven to be a benefit is that the recognition seems to have opened doors to help me work with others to build STEM programs in their schools.  Though the students of Georgetown Elementary are my top concern, I do what I can to work with other schools to make sure that all students have access to a high quality education.  As an educator, our primary goal is to provide educational opportunities for our students, and I truly believe that all students are our students, and any educators with expertise in an area should share their knowledge with our students.

 

DSTEM: In your opinion, what does STEM mean for the larger community and the state?

Travis: STEM is a pathway that we need to really invest in for the state, and the efforts of various pockets and groups are slowly making progress. Having worked in an area where STEM is prevalent, and where there is a strong technology industry to utilize, I see the potential of what we can do here.

The southern end of Delaware is still agriculturally centered, but there is a lot that we can do to bring STEM fields into the area.  As technology becomes more available, we can provide opportunities a lot easier to our students and develop programs with local businesses to link them to our schools.

I’ve seen in Wilmington, there has been a great deal of effort to start STEM initiatives, and as much as they have put into them, it was disheartening to see some of them struggle.  Everyone involved knows what STEM can do, but the hardest part is trying to get the rest of the state to see it and it’s potential. I really applaud the efforts of those involved in creating the STEM Academy, as it does have a great deal of potential, but losing their charter was a huge setback to the initiative, and I hope they can work towards finding a new approach and are not discouraged by the setback.

 

DSTEM: STEM careers are plentiful for those who pursue them, how do you think we get kids involved with STEM, and more importantly get them involved at a young age (k-12) so that they can be prepared for a future in STEM, regardless if they attend a 4 year college?

Travis:  The best way to get them involved is to start them young, and reach all demographics if possible. Utilizing summer camps, expos and other activities are great pathways to reach all students. The way I foresee being most effective has two approaches. You need to create a pipeline to get students involved in all grades, and you need to make sure you reach all demographics.

When VEX IQ was first released a friend of mine, Yolanda Farmer, and I added it to Manassas Park’s robotics club. We created a program called STEMLET (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math and Learning English Together), with the idea of teaching STEM to ELL students. Our goal was to provide them the opportunities to learn STEM skills in an atmosphere that was not as competitive as the VEX platform was. After a year or two in the program, we saw that those still interested were transitioning to VEX with the same skills and abilities as those that were in VEX the entire time.

In Delaware, I am working with a similar mindset. I’ve developed partnerships with the Del Tech Owen’s campus to help build a bridge between our students and theirs. David LaFazia and I are working to tie the two schools together, and we already captures a great deal of interest from our elementary students, and as they continue their education, we’ll be able to expand more.  If we can create outreach opportunities that allow college students to work with high school students, high school with middle school, and middle with elementary school, students will be involved in STEM their entire career, and foster a genuine interest in STEM.

There’s a really interesting book called “The New Cool” that speaks of a school that started their FRC program, and in follow up articles about the program, cite that students in fourth grade are already starting to figure out what they can to do get into the high school club.  I think if we can generate that kind of interest with our programs, students will be interested.  The success I had at SMS, and what I’ve started already at GE this year, have really made students interested in the STEM programs.

 

DSTEMWhat do you think the future holds for STEM education and the STEM economy in Delaware?

Travis:  I think it’s an opportunity we need to really invest in and take the time to build up. With the federal funds that Del Tech received in 2015 to help reach minority students, we should be able to create opportunities for our students, of all demographics.  One of the things that Senator Carper said that I really think we need to look into is that if we want the STEM jobs to develop throughout the state, we need to make sure that our students are prepared for them.  I feel that by focusing on programs to create learning opportunities, they will come.

In today’s world, youth participation in STEM is more important than ever. Careers in these fields are abundant, and it is incredible important that we push young minds to follow their passions for STEM through grade school and college. After speaking with Travis it is clear that he is the perfect example of the type of educator we need for STEM growth in the United States. I would like to thank him for his time and inspiration.


Interview on behalf of Delaware STEM conducted by Zachary Yonda – Zach is a passionate STEM advocate as well as a devoted student athlete on the men’s basketball team at Swarthmore College. He is currently pursuing a degree in economics.

by: Stephen E. Schwartz

The Republican and Democratic National Conventions recently signaled the official start of the 2016 campaign season.  Yet, with all of the talk of making America safe/great, of reducing income inequality, of putting Americans back to work, of raising the minimum wage, there seems to be little to no mention of perhaps the fundamental factor in enabling the United States to find new (or former?) levels of success – the American education system!  Founding father Thomas Jefferson called for an “educated citizenry,” and that education – though very different in the 21stcentury – is even more important today than it was in the 18th century.    As was forecast by Adam Toffler in his 1970 novel Future Shock, our society is facing huge changes – changes which will probably accelerate in the next few decades as we move beyond the industrial era into an ever  more technologically-dependent situation.  To thrive in, or even to cope with, that technological era, citizens will need far more science understandings, far more math expertise than ever before.  Using the current buzz word, 21st century students need vastly enhanced STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) skills and understanding.

When I was in school in the 1960s, I was strongly moved by Rachel Carson’s The Silent Spring.  In that book, she clearly illustrated the impact of synthetic pesticides which were poisoning the environment.  Despite strong pressure from the chemical industry and even agriculture – along with government lethargy – that book was successful in eventually getting DDT banned, but only when the general public became informed.  Most of our modern inventions have both positive and negative attributes, and it is essential that citizens have the wherewithal – both individually and collectively – to consciously conduct cost benefit analyses.

For example, we all are bombarded with television pharmaceutical advertisements which promise relief, cures, etc. while fast-forwarding through a plethora of risks and potential side-effects.  A 21st century citizen of the United States needs to be equipped with enough science background and enough statistics background to make good personal judgments.  With the successful mapping of the genome, we are learning that all of us have some mutant cells and some predispositions; equipped with that information – and the necessary educational background to understand it all – our children should be able to make informed decisions about their own health and that of their aging loved ones.  With the reality of genetically-modified crops, don’t we want all citizens to be able to make informed decisions about the relative safety of their food?

Water is fundamental to life, yet it is a finite resource.  A recent study in the “Scientific American” noted that “only half of drugs are removed by sewage treatment plants.”  In fact, it is estimated that the drinking water in New Orleans, at the mouth of the Mississippi, has been through seven people by the time it comes out of the faucets in homes.  I recently heard a nurse urging someone “to flush” unused opiates to keep them out of the hands of youth; shouldn’t everyone understand the consequences of such actions on the general population, on fish, on wildlife, on the water.  While we are blessed in Delaware with relatively abundant water supplies, we also have thousands of failing septic systems which threaten that supply, and our students are not being taught what should and should not go through those systems.  The biology and chemistry which we were taught years ago must be upgraded!

Like it or not, everyone is dependent upon computer technology.  Bank books and stock certificates are a thing of the past.  Even several years ago, Steve Jobs said, “computer science is a liberal art” that “everyone should have a mastery of to some extent.”  There are literally millions of coding jobs which are being sent “off shore” because not enough Americans have the skills.  Coding is taught in only 10% of the high schools in the USA.  While we fine-tune [Common Core!] basic standards in English and math, we are largely ignoring computer science; Delaware does not have rigorous computer science standards and fully 20% of students’ homes lack access to the Internet.

Scientists are creating new synthetic materials and composites to improve our lives.  Look at what our automobiles are made of.  Look at the potential of the technology of 3-D printers.  Yet, like almost any new invention, there are potential pitfalls and by-products.  Educated citizens must demand appropriate protections and testings, while ensuring that competing traditional methods do not un-duly hinder legitimate progress.

Our politicians will proudly point to the American’s historical “pioneer spirit” and “Yankee ingenuity;” yet we see that dozens of countries across the globe are working harder and smarter to dominate the 21st century.  While we can yearn for the great factory jobs of the 20thcentury, robotics has largely replaced those jobs, and the ones that still remain can be accomplished much cheaper in developing countries.  For our youth to compete on a global scale, they need first class STEM skills; look at the job market today – STEM jobs are paying high wages while those without technical skills are falling out of or to the bottom of the middle class.  This situation is a reality of the 21st century!  Yet, even aside from employment issues, each individual needs a firm grounding in science and technology to function effectively as a citizen in the USA.  Do you know how well your local schools are doing in providing students with a sound STEM foundation?  Engage those politicians who seek your vote and force them beyond the platitudes of “improving education” into significant and specific plans and ideas for establishing STEM competency in all of our students.

Dr. Schwartz is a retired English teacher and public school administrator living in Seaford; he is a past president of the Delaware Foundation for Math & Science Education.

By Rysheema Dixon – May 23rd, 2016

STEM is crucial to growing our economy. Building the STEM infrastructure in the State and in our local communities exposes our students and residents to the booming STEM climate affecting our neighborhoods everyday. Changing the school environment and learning techniques to expand our student’s minds so they can gain interest in the exciting new careers that STEM has to offer. As the world evolves, STEM becomes more and more important for our communities to understand and work in.

My extensive background in health through STEM is a result of: Delcastle Vo-Tech High School practical nursing program; volunteering at local hospitals; attending a medical/ dental internship in Nebraska and working over the summer with John Hopkins as a health assistant in Massachusetts at a language camp. I was also a biological science major until my senior year at the University of Delaware before I switched to Sociology as I decided that helping people required more than medicine.

Having a background in the sciences helped me combine with my love for community work. I started my own business called RD Innovative Planning in 2011 which is a community development group that assists non-profits and churches with organizing around a specific issue, planning events and managing projects to ensure our non-profits and churches are delivering their services to their best ability. My experience in STEM has also allowed me to tap into technology. I am a Technical.ly Delaware Stakeholder and Technical.ly Delaware named me as one of the Top 12 Women in Delaware shaping the Technology Scene in 2014.

As I now enter into the public office arena, I understand how STEM plays an enormous part in the landscape of our City of Wilmington. Technology is emerging in many ways across the City, we have amazing STEM non-profits, State programs and private sector interests. As I stated earlier, we should encourage our school systems to heighten awareness and teach our young people ways to expand their career opportunities. I am looking forward to working with STEM programs/projects across the City to ultimately improve the quality of life of our neighborhoods. As well as adding to the Arts and Culture in the City creating the STEAM effect which is powerful. In today’s society, we have to be creative and innovative as we move forward to make an impact.

My experience with STEM has made me the leader I am today. I am a proud advocate of STEM!