STEM Teacher Challenge

In a world increasingly shaped by science and technology, STEM education has never been more critical. If America is to meet the challenges of the 21st century, we must STEMtheGAP™ in science, technology, engineering, and mathematical education.

Who better to turn to for new ideas than you—the teachers in America’s classrooms?

Share your best ideas for improving STEM education below, and you have the chance to receive a $1,000 grant for your students.

An independent panel of scientists and educators from The Center for Science Teaching and Learning of Rockville Centre, NY, will review every submission.

The Fall Teacher Challenge is now closed. Thank you for your submissions!

Special thanks to the Center for Science Teaching and Learning who will review all entries.

Meet our STEMtheGAP Teacher Challenge Winners



Anne Mlod

Anne Mlod – Genesee Elementary School – Auburn, NY

“Being able to help students become lifelong, independent problem-solvers was one of my inspirations for becoming a school librarian.”
Anne has long held a passion for learning and watching young minds grow. Through her career as a librarian she has seen that students need the opportunity to be creative and explore every field to pave their own path to success.  Anne was first introduced to the world of STEM several years ago at a conference in Boston. It was here that she learned about Scratch, free coding software developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that allows kids to program their own games, stories, and animations. With a fellow teacher, she was inspired to create a “Scratch Club” at her school where students not only learn valuable programming skills but also develop critical thinking and problem solving skills.

“In order for our students to become college and career ready, it is critical that they develop the problem-solving, critical thinking, and teamwork skills that STEM education promotes.”
One of Anne’s biggest priorities as an educator is ensuring that her students have all the skills they need to thrive after they leave school. She believes that to be well prepared for higher education and a career, they need to be exposed as early as possible. With fields in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics growing rapidly, educators like Anne are key figures in molding innovative and enthusiastic minds that are ready to tackle the future. 

“This would inform, excite and motivate my students about the possibilities with STEM.”
Anne has big plans to expand the STEM programs at her school. She wishes to start recurring events celebrating the exciting world of STEM that will bring together students and their families along with local businesses, college partners, and high school technology students. These events will expose students to different STEM activities and introduce them to different careers. Her initiative will not only benefit current students but will also lay the foundation for continued STEM success in her school and community. 

Cindy Tabor

Cindy Tabor - Madison Elementary - Warsaw, IN

“We are always looking for new ideas to spark our students’ interest”
In Cindy’s career as an educator, she has noticed that her kindergarten students are learning more advanced material at a younger age. The curriculum is already packed with different subjects so it can be a challenge to introduce STEM. Cindy’s approach is to integrate science, technology, engineering, and math with other subjects like language arts to expand on the traditional mathematics lessons.

“STEM is so great it should be offered to all students.”
In almost every curriculum the basics of STEM are introduced at an early age. However, the in-depth and hands-on material that really sparks interest is often limited to STEM-focused schools. With the Dow STEMtheGAP grant, Cindy hopes to continue developing a unit about plants that begins in the classroom and utilizes her school’s sensory garden.

“These opportunities will ignite students’ academic world!”
Cindy’s students will learn the science of plants and be able to see up close how they grow. One of the projects will be growing the ingredients that make pizza – getting her classroom to see where their food originates. Cindy hopes that the programs supported by the STEMtheGAP grant will be able to extend beyond a single school year. She looks forward to the students in her classroom communicating with older students to create a dynamic learning environment that will foster creative and critical thinking skills. 

Colin Johnson

Colin Johnson – Bayles Elementary School - Dallas, TX

“More exposure to STEM using technology will help students.”
For many educators, it can be a challenge to keep their classrooms equipped with up-to-date technology. For STEM teachers it is especially imperative that their students understand and are able to experience a connection with modern equipment. He has plans to introduce his students to real-world careers in STEM but he needs support to provide the necessary resources.

“It is difficult for students to learn science and math without real world application.”
Colin believes that in order for students to absorb and enjoy STEM subjects they need to see learning in action. For example, a student is more likely to understand algebraic concepts if they explain how they contribute to space exploration, rather than abstract theories. Colin understands this need because, prior to his career as an educator, he worked in the world of STEM analyzing water quality and working in environmental conservation. He applies his knowledge of the practical world of STEM to his lessons. He believes that having his students learn from individuals within STEM fields will be a great learning tool and plans to have professionals speak to his class about their careers, encouraging them to pursue science, technology, engineering, and math.

“It must be a fun experience.”
One of the reasons that teaching appeals to Colin is the fast-paced energy of the classroom, and he brings his enthusiasm to his teaching strategies and lesson plans. Students respond favorably to lessons that are hands-on and fun for them, and technology is a huge factor. Since young students have grown up in a world where technology is ubiquitous, it is important to engage with them in a way that is within their comfort zone.  With his Dow STEMtheGAP grant, Colin has plans to introduce tablets and other wireless devices into his classroom. This would allow students to learn on their own and within a familiar medium. 

Donna Himmelberg

Donna Himmelberg – Fairport High School – Fairport, NY

“Hands on research needs to infiltrate the curriculum.”
Donna understands the financial limitations that many schools face trying to explore STEM subjects. Science, technology, engineering and math often require extensive resources that stretch beyond what is allotted within the traditional curriculum. However, the valuable skills that students develop from STEM projects will last a lifetime. Like other dedicated STEM teachers, Donna has had to be resourceful and creative to provide her students the most beneficial and exciting lessons.  She believes that education should include as much authentic research and practice as possible.

“Opens up their eyes and gets them over their fears.”
Many students are intimidated by STEM subjects and are turned off from wanting to explore them further once they leave high school. To pique the interests of even her most academically reserved students, Donna and her colleagues formed a club devoted to the science behind space exploration. In conjunction with the NASA HUNCH Extreme Science program, students are able to design and test different experiments like the Weightless Wonder- a plane that flies parabolas to simulate weightlessness.  

“Things are growing and it’s very exciting.”
Despite the constraints that STEM subjects face, Donna is optimistic that interest in the field is growing. Seeing her students accomplishing projects and gaining confidence is the greatest reward for Donna. To keep the STEM programs going strong she hopes to use her Dow STEMtheGAP grant to purchase new cameras to document and share progress and invest in a modern 3-D printer. Donna hopes that her students are encouraged to be thinkers, not just doers. Education is about far more than just completing classwork but rather finding out things about the world and becoming a part of larger conversation. 

Jennifer Church Brannon

Jennifer Church Brannon - Union County High School - Liberty, IN

“Hands on activities will push the students to use critical thinking, problem solving, and communication.”
Jennifer has spent her 17 years in education changing the perception and objectives of Family and Consumer Sciences (FASC) classes, formerly known as “home ec.” Classes that once focused on teaching students sewing and cooking have transitioned into career preparations for fields like dietetics, food chemistry, microbiology, nursing and many more. She wants her students to be prepared for the future and she knows that STEM skills are a huge asset.

“There is support and information available.”
Engaging students can be difficult for teachers in any subject but especially STEM. Jennifer has seen that science, technology, engineering, and math can be as overwhelming and challenging to teach as it is for students to learn. She understands that maintaining an open line of communication with students benefits everyone, and students are often willing to vocalize what it is they want to learn. Combined with support from fellow teachers and outside resources, there’s no reason why every student can’t enjoy STEM.

“I believe the hands-on labs will excite them.”
Jennifer hopes to use her Dow STEMtheGAP grant to fuel a hands-on in-class food science lab where her students will learn to analyze the science of what they eat. Projects like comparing processed and fresh foods or the prevention of food-born illnesses in processing will be explored and her students will learn valuable critical thinking skills in an important and rapidly growing field. 

Nancy Gifford

Nancy Gifford – Harwich Middle School – Harwich, MA

“We need to find a way to help students to see all of the opportunities that are available.”
Across the country, teachers are constantly working on new ways to get their students excited about STEM subjects. For Nancy Gifford, it can be especially hard to inspire her students because they live in an area where they are not exposed to many STEM professionals in their day-to-day lives. She works hard to introduce her students to careers in science, technology, engineering, and math but she needs more technology in her classroom to truly bring her lessons to life.

“Kids need hands-on, self-directed, meaningful learning experiences.”
Nancy is passionate about teaching science to her young students. In her experience, even as an adult, the most meaningful and memorable lessons come from hands-on activities. In 2001, Nancy participated in a NASA program and spent two weeks working with scientists, developing important skills and building a foundation in STEM. As an educator, she hopes to teach lessons that inspire her students the way the NASA program inspired her.

“Kids can’t imagine if they can’t see it.”
It can be difficult to teach students without visual examples, especially abstract STEM concepts within an isolated classroom, however computers are great tools for students to be able to actualize the topics they read in textbooks. With the Dow STEMtheGAP grant Nancy plans to improve her student’s access to technology in the classroom. Students have grown up in a world where technology is everywhere and it’s important for their educations to be reflective of the changing landscape. 

Rebecca Brewer

Rebecca Brewer - Troy High School – Troy, MI

“Many experiences led me along this path, including supportive parents, inspiring teachers, and involvement in science fairs and science competitions.”
Rebecca has been interested in science since she was a young child. By the time she was in middle school she decided that she wanted to teach biology- and her decision never faltered. Her inspiring teachers and involvement in science fairs and competitions is what cemented Rebecca’s natural curiosity and encouraged her to pursue her passion. As an educator, she hopes that she can pass on the gifts she was given early on.

“Teaching isn’t just a job, it is a passion.”
Rebecca’s enthusiasm for teaching has only grown during her 15-year career.  She says that her greatest reward as an educator comes from being able to share her interests and watch her students explore and absorb the biological world. Many of Rebecca’s former students have gone on to successful STEM careers. Recently, a former student recommended that she visit the University of Michigan’s hospitals to see past members of her biology class in action as physicians and medical interns.

“America needs more people entering STEM fields.”
One of the many reasons that Rebecca is so passionate about teaching biology is because she knows that getting her students excited about science early is a great stepping stone towards a bright future. Through her time as an educator she has seen STEM careers become increasingly valuable. She believes that this trend will continue and she hopes that programs like STEMtheGAP will encourage more students to become active in the exciting fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. Rebecca hopes to use the grant to help institute a more investigative approach to instruction, utilizing real world scenarios and helping the students gain a deeper understanding of the path of knowledge needed to uncover answers.

Rodrigo Anadon

Rodrigo Anadon - Penn High School - Mishawaka, Indiana

“Pursue a STEM career that you will enjoy doing for a lifetime.”

Rodrigo has had an interest in technology since the early 1980’s when there was a boom in personal technology. As an early adapter of computers he fell in love with the intricacies of technology and has spent the better part of his life exploring the cyber world. Rodrigo’s higher education was focused in technology but he credits much of his self-taught lessons in providing that interest. Rodrigo is currently focusing his career on software development and is a dedicated advocate for NCWIT.

“Project-based learning that gets students to learn through creation.”
Some students have trouble grasping STEM subjects just by studying a textbook. And he especially sees this as a Computer Programming Teacher. Rodrigo strives to provide his class with hands-on projects to get them interested in computers. He believes that having students work on projects allows them to employ problem-solving skills that they will benefit from for years to come.

“My vision is to use the grant to stimulate STEM interest in computer science.”
Rodrigo has clear plans for his Dow STEMtheGAP grant. He will purchase Raspberry P.I.’s to enable students to learn Linux, code P.I.’s using Python, and create and develop different projects based on class interests. The technology industry is growing rapidly and by mastering computer technology at an early stage Rodrigo’s students are building a strong foundation for a STEM career.

Sondra Whalen

Sondra Whalen - Vernon-Verona-Sherrill Middle – Verona, NY

“I want to light a fire in my students.”
Sondra’s career as an educator began after she had already ventured into the corporate world after receiving her Bachelor’s degree in business from Clemson University. She ended up leaving this area to become a teacher; after all she had always loved working with kids and had a passion for reading and writing. Sondra knew working in ELA (English Language Arts) would give her the opportunity to inspire kids and show them how communication is tied to everything they do. Sondra’s work as an ELA teacher directly ties to her school’s STEAM initiatives as she helps students to prepare their communication capabilities to meet common core standards.

“It’s important for students to be able to breakdown the jargon of an engineering world.”
Sondra went on to explain that technology is one of the most useful but unavailable tools in teaching ELA students. The ability to give her students the opportunity to learn with hands-on technology while teaching them how to build their knowledge base would be her dream. As the STEAM coordinator for her middle school, Sondra wishes to see modules related to STEAM impact all disciplines. Although she is an ELA teacher, Sondra explains that STEM fields are growing and it is her job to prepare her students in how to use technology and communication skills to succeed in them.

“STEAM can become a center discipline that allows kids to see connections in everything and use them in real life settings.”
As STEAM coordinator, Sondra is heading three team projects in her middle school including a community garden, building infrastructure, and refugee centers, and hopes to use her Dow STEMtheGAP Teacher Challenge grant to contribute to all of the projects.  The community garden will teach students about the engineering behind hydroponics and sustainability. The building infrastructure project will allow students to examine how their building’s needs are changing with age. The refugee center will also help kids understand the basic needs it takes to support life and how to provide for people in a changing political and physical world. Sondra hopes that her middle school can continue to be a model for others as they build their STEAM curriculum into the future.

Stacy Hill

Stacy Hill – STEM School Chattanooga – Chattanooga, TN

“STEM is a process of engaging in innovation, collaboration, and critical thinking.”

Throughout Stacy’s teaching career she has seen that the gaps in STEM education and careers is most pronounced with the underrepresentation of women and minorities. STEM educators know that when students engage in their subjects they are learning much more than the fundamentals of science, technology, engineering, and math. They are developing keen problem solving and creative thinking skills that can transcend fields and evolve into successful careers.

“We know they can excel if they just had an opportunity to be engaged.”
Stacy knows that all students seek the same wonderful skills and opportunities provided by STEM and she strives for inclusivity, and she hopes to develop a program to invite female and minority STEM professionals to speak to her classes about their unique career paths. Many students learn by example and interacting with a successful person in STEM could be the catalyst for a lifelong interest.

“I never dreamed I’d enjoy it so much.”
Stacy did not start her career in STEM, rather she was more interested in liberal and language arts. As an educator with a diverse background, she understands that even though students may not immediately express interest in science, technology, engineering, and math they can still find great enjoyment and fulfillment in the subjects. With her Dow STEMtheGAP grant, Stacy plans to expand her school’s robotics program. Her students are excited about the program and having additional funds means her students will have more exposure to robotics. 

Susanne Hannigan

Susanne Hannigan - Anchorage Independent Public School - Anchorage, KY

 “If I could change one thing about STEM education, it would to diversify the STEM curriculum to meet the unique needs to all students.”
Susanne knows that all students can benefit from STEM skills, regardless of where their interests lie and their perceived learning level. The biggest challenge that she faces as a special education teacher is developing projects that will inspire her students without straying too far outside of their comfort zones.

“It’s discovery learning.”
Individual attention is important to almost any student’s development and especially imperative for special education students. It’s her job, as an educator, to assess a child’s individual needs and equip them with tools to utilize in the real world. Susanne knows that sometimes the best lessons come from outside the classroom. STEM skills can be utilized in situations like determining the best sales at a store or analyzing environmental issues.   

“As a veteran educator, I have learned to not limit the realm of learning experiences for my students.”
As the school year progresses, Susanne and her fellow teachers will determine where the Dow STEMtheGAP grant would be most beneficial.  While technology can be very important for students, Susanne believes that sometimes the most effective learning experiences are the simplest. Passionate teachers and eager students are the foundation of a great education. 

Tawasha Thomas

Tawasha Thomas – Lawtell Elementary School – Opelousas, LA

“Everything is technology based for them at home, we need to incorporate it more.”
Tawasha is keenly aware of how saturated with technology her students are outside of the classroom, but not necessarily inside.  Many of the careers that she hopes her students will transition into after college rely heavily on technology so she believes that in order to have a strong foundation, her students must be able to explore technology in the classroom. Like so many others, Tawasha’s school district has not had the funding to equip her classroom with updated technology like microscopes and tablets.

“Laboratories are essential to garnering and sustaining student interest in science.”
When she began her career as an educator, Tawasha realized that she needed to come up with a way to engage her students with science. Most of the information available in school is through textbooks and is often diluted as students lose interest before they ever get a chance to really explore STEM subjects. One of the programs that Tawasha has developed to immerse her students in science and pique their interest is by demonstrating blood typing. The process always fascinates her students but due to financial constraints she is unable to hold these demonstrations very often. With her Dow STEMtheGAP grant, Tawasha hopes to hold science workshops with more frequency.

“I would change the manner in which school resources are distributed.”
Tawasha knows that her students have interest in STEM subjects but her school lacks the resources to develop extra-curricular projects. She hopes to introduce a robotics project that would span from elementary to high school and culminate with a showcase. She believes that an on-going project in an exciting field will engage her students and develop STEM skills that will last a lifetime. 

Tina Manus

Tina Manus - Platt Vocational Technical High School – Milford, CT

"The future of STEM education lies in making students partners in designing their classrooms… in giving them ownership in classroom development and innovation."
Now in her fourth year at Platt, Tina's journey as a STEM educator started with her teaching music programs to infants and toddlers, during which she garnered an appreciation for developmental education. After getting her certification, Tina pursued a course of teaching English and Language Arts, where she continuously grows her mission to better understand how students learn and develop. Believing that she and education are "soul mates," Tina is devoted to applying this understanding to advance what she calls "authentic" learning, that is STEM education. To Tina, STEM is part of everything and it is the key to replacing what students see as the more 'mundane aspects' of learning with genuine excitement to learn because they can see it in the working world. Every day, Tina works to leverage the power of STEM to connect the physical world of her students to the cerebral, cognitive knowledge being learned in the academic world.

"Children are the most untapped resource we have as a collective group – they have all the answers, and we simply don't utilize them enough."
In today's world, Tina sees students as "digital natives," who not only understand all the apps and technology at their fingertips, but possess the most interesting and innovative ideas for applying it to every day life. She brings this philosophy into her classroom, giving her students the opportunity to 'educate the teacher," on ways to make learning more fun and effective. Her respect for the minds of her students means Tina often opens doors for them to be entrepreneurs of the classroom… creating a win-win environment where everyone can learn from everyone else.

"Anyone can apply STEM effectively matched to the common core in classroom. They are one in the same and need to grow together. How we apply them is up to our professional expertise.”
Tina sincerely hopes more people apply for Dow's STEMtheGAP Teacher Challenge grants and take the initiative to do something different. Her vision for the grant is to bring about better ways to empower her students to use their skills in technology to enrich the school environment and see hand-held/portable technology applied successfully by everyone in her school community to engage 21st Century students in 21st Century classroom learning. Tina aims to have students interview teachers in order to research and/or develop products that teachers could use in their classrooms that incorporate hand-held technology. She also anticipates nurturing students to work to inform teachers about how new products (or even products they develop and/or design) can help to make lessons more engaging for students.

Todd Beard

Todd Beard - International Academy of Flint – Flint, MI

“I was lucky to have outlets for which I could express my ideas”

Like many others in STEM fields, Todd has had a natural curiosity and attraction to technology since a young age.  He’s been interested in the inner workings of technology since he was in fourth grade and a teacher let me him borrow an old Texas Instruments computer. Todd’s passion hasn’t wavered since elementary school and he brings that dedication to his classroom as a Technology teacher.

“I love that STEM education is the education of how to solve problems”
Todd believes that the most effective way to introduce STEM subjects to students is to present real life scenarios and encourage them to devise solutions. In his experience, young learners do not thrive from memorization or some of the other traditional tactics. Todd knows that the only way to get students excited is to engage them and make them want to learn.
“Make your dreams a reality”
Todd is lucky to be an educator in a district that already promotes STEM subjects. The annual science fair is fairly successful but he wants to take it to the next level. Using his STEMtheGAP grant, Todd hopes to encourage his students to truly innovate and break the mold of the traditional project. He is confident that his truly passionate students will latch on and develop new concepts that could eventually even be produced and copyrighted.

Traci Blanco

Traci Blanco - Kankakee Valley High School - Wheatfield, IN.

“When you can show students and teachers different ways that their curriculum is involved in other subject areas, I think it freshens their lessons up and makes them more relatable.”

When Traci’s students take one of her business classes they are getting much more than a traditional lesson in industry fundamentals. They are being exposed to the experience and passion of an educator with a rich background in the “real world” of business. Traci graduated with a degree in marketing and went on to a career in advertising sales for seven years before catching the education bug. She has been teaching for two years and she brings a fresh perspective to the conventional approach to business classes. Traci strives to get her students thinking in an original and unique way through cross-curricular projects with the engineering, welding, and even culinary arts programs at her school.

“Nothing is more rewarding than seeing a student succeed!”
She knows that it is not always easy to get teenagers excited and eager to learn, so she draws on her own experiences to create unique learning environments that encourage engagement and active participation. In her experience, students become more invested when they when they are given a problem to solve independently. For example, Traci has developed a project with a local sports team for her students to build an advertising budget and allocation and present directly to the team. She sees that her students’ eyes are opening to what the worlds of business and STEM have to offer.

“STEM encompasses so many skills such as problem solving and creative thinking.”
Traci’s classes do not fall under that traditional STEM umbrella. However, she recognizes that many of the skills that are vital in STEM programs such as problem solving and creative thinking are essential to success in business. She hopes that her students absorb the lessons they learn in all of their different subjects, particularly STEM ones, and combine that knowledge with their own individual ideas and skills to create something truly unique.  She hopes to be able to use the grant to take her marketing course with the Project Lead the Way Engineering class to the next level.