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.