The 8th Annual Delaware STEM Educator Award Winners Ceremony:

“STEM Permeates Everything!”

By Jan Castro

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

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

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

See video clip here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The presentation of awards began with the Certified Educators Awards. At the elementary school level, Jaime Swartz of John M. Clayton Elementary School, and one of five Delaware finalists for the 2022 Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching, was awarded the first place prize for implementing the Project Lead the Way Launch Program.
See video clip here:

Wendy Turner, an educator at Mount Pleasant Elementary School and 2017 Delaware Educator of the Year, received the second place Certified Educator Award for developing a program, in a 5-year partnership with the Delaware Center for Horticulture, which provides a hands-on, outdoor STEM learning experience focused on dendrology, or the study of trees.

See video clip here:

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

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

See video clip here:

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

See video clip here:

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

See video clip here:

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

See video clip here:

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

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

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

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

See video clip here:

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

For further information and updates on upcoming events, or to learn more about the Delaware STEM Educator Awards, please visit the official Delaware STEM Council website. STEM Educators can expect the application process for the 9th Annual Awards to be open soon.


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

STEM educators, advocates, and leaders have once again gathered together to recognize the most innovative and dedicated STEM educators working in The First State today through the Seventh Delaware STEM Educator Awards.

The Delaware STEM Council and the Delaware Foundation for Science and Mathematics Education (DFSME) hosted the ceremony in a hybrid format from Buena Vista Country Estate in New Castle, Delaware on November 4, 2021. The special evening was made possible thanks to the event’s signature sponsor, Ashland, as well as sponsors Labware, DuPont, Agilent and DNREC.

The award ceremony’s keynote speaker, Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting, began the ceremony by recounting her own personal involvement in the Educator Awards and expressing the inspiring ways in which the Delaware STEM ecosystem has evolved throughout the years.

“This annual recognition of Delaware’s star STEM educators is a celebration which is near and dear to my heart,” Bunting said. “Each year, the entries have become increasingly impressive, and winner selection has become more and more challenging. I have been fascinated by Delaware educators’ ingenuity, and the variety of creative initiatives that they have submitted for recognition.”

Other elected representatives of Delaware appeared virtually to express support for the mission of Delaware STEM education and educators. Among them was Governor John Carney, who helped kick off the announcement of award winners.

“I’m excited to join you in recognizing the importance of STEM education in Delaware,” Carney said. “You all have an important role by teaching the scientists, innovators, and engineers of tomorrow. On behalf of the entire state of Delaware, thank you for your commitment to STEM education and the success of our students.” Delaware senators Tom Carper and Chris Coons also joined to honor the award applicants and recipients being celebrated that evening.

“I’ve had some firsthand experience with the excitement, the purpose, and the productivity of a life engaged in STEM,” Coons, who has a university background in chemistry, said. “I know there’s a great deal of work still to be done to sustain STEM education and deliver reliable and equitable resources in the process.”

Senator Tom Carper extended praise for Delaware educators who, despite the tremendous ongoing challenges of Covid-19 and virtual learning, have excelled in their fields in acts of resilience and strength.

“This pandemic has forced all of us to get creative in doing our jobs, but none more so than our teachers,” Carper said. “In the Navy, when people do extraordinary work, we say ‘Bravo Zulu.’ To all of you I say ‘Bravo Zulu.’”

Members of the Delaware STEM Council were present to announce live the Certified STEM Educator Award winners across the middle and high school levels. All first place award winners in each category received an unrestricted cash prize of $6,000, a commemorative trophy, and free access to all parks in the Delaware State Park system for one year.

At the middle school level, the first place award was presented to Gail Morris, a computer science and business education teacher at Gauger-Cobbs Middle School, and a 2019-2020 Gauger-Cobbs Middle School Teacher of the Year.

At the high school level, two separate applicants were awarded with a first place prize. Melissa Blair Tracy, a social studies teacher and Model UN and Youth in Government Adviser at Odyssey Charter School, as well as a duo of Delmar Senior High School teachers, Daniel Rice and Peter Burnham, were all honored as first place recipients. Rice is a science teacher and Burnham is a manufacturing and engineering technology teacher.

Middle school award winner Gail Morris offered an emotional reflection of the moment, expressing her immense gratitude and dedicating her win to her late mother, who was also a veteran Christina School District STEM educator.

“I want to say thank you to the Delaware STEM Educator committee members so much for selecting me as the middle school award recipient this evening,” Morris said. “If you couldn’t tell by my reaction, I was completely shocked and caught off guard, ecstatic and overjoyed at the same time!”

DFSME board member and former academic outreach manager for DuPont, P.J. Simon, presented the Community Educator Award.“This award speaks to the heart of the African proverb, that ‘it takes a village to raise a child,’” Simon said. “The village, or community, is where people that are closest to you encourage, mentor, and prepare all of us for the world.”

The Community Educator Award was presented to Jackie Means, the founder of the Wilmington Urban STEM Initiative and a sophomore medical diagnostics major at the University of Delaware, for her initiative to educate elementary school students about 3D printing technology.

The Armbrecht Award for Outstanding STEM Advocacy, an award given in memory of former DFSME Executive Director, Ross Armbrecht, is sponsored by the Armbrecht family together with DFSME. The award recognizes a Delaware educator who has demonstrated outstanding commitment and collaboration between business, education, and community leaders to advance STEM education in the state. This year, the Armbrecht Award was presented to Tonyea Mead, a Science Education Associate at Delaware Department of Education.

The Jon Manon STEAM Team Award was presented by DFSME executive director Randy Guschl. The award is accompanied by a $1,000 cash prize and it uniquely recognizes a team of educators who have achieved outstanding accomplishments in collaborating, coordinating, and executing their programs and projects.

This year’s winning team was comprised of Gene Beitman, Matthew Juck, David Wessell, and Atilano Rodriguez, a group of math and science educators from Middletown High School in the Appoquinimink school district.

With the awards revealed, Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester greeted attendees and winners with a message expressing her own sustained efforts to keep STEM education robust in The First State.

“I want all of you to know, as your congresswoman, I have your back when it comes to fighting for the integration of STEM education in our classrooms,” Blunt-Rochester said. “Our future will depend on how we prepare our young people today for success in the world, and that begins with you.”

Joining in person at Buena Vista, Delaware Lieutenant Governor Bethany Hall-Long, a long-standing champion of Delaware STEM, concluded the evening with closing thoughts, echoing the support and assurance which her colleagues in office have voiced throughout the evening.

“Each and everyone one of you is making Delaware proud,” Hall-Long said. “We would not be where we are today if it wasn’t for science. And I know, as I’ve talked to Governor Carney, we are well aware of the importance and the value of our teachers.”

As the Council and DFSME look forward to the Eighth Delaware STEM Educator Awards ceremony, slated for fall of 2022, the evening’s ceremony concluded with a reminder to all Delaware educators that the application for the 2022 running is now available online.

For further information and updates on upcoming events, or to learn more about the Delaware STEM Educator Awards, please visit the official Delaware STEM Council website at The application process for the Eighth Annual Awards is now open.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For further information and updates on upcoming events, or to learn more about the Delaware STEM Educator Awards, please visit the official Delaware STEM Council website. The application process for the 7th Annual Awards is now open.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What did you do with the funds from the award?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ashland Inc. is an American chemical company with global operations in over 100 countries. Thanks to the gracious support of Ashland, among other advocates and sponsors of Delaware STEM, the annual symposium is able to bring together the state’s vanguard of STEM for this day of collaboration and awards ceremony.
For updates on future announcements for upcoming events and symposium dates and locations, further information and additional resources can be found at the official Delaware STEM Council website,

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


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