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Three-Day Event Recognizes STEM Mentors and Teachers

Posted on August 20, 2018
STEM mentors and teachers chat over dinner during the awards ceremony that recognized their exemplary achievements with a presidential citation and a $10,000 grant. Photo credit: National Science Foundation
STEM mentors and teachers chat over dinner during the awards ceremony that recognized their exemplary achievements with a presidential citation and a $10,000 grant. Photo credit: National Science Foundation

Exemplary mentors in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) joined colleagues who teach science and mathematics across the country in Washington, D.C., in June for a three-day Excellence Awards in Science and Engineering (EASE) Recognition Program. The event honored 41 new recipients of the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM) and 104 recipients of the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

"On behalf of the White House, I am honored to express the Nation’s gratitude for the tireless dedication that these men and women bring to educating the next generation of scientists, engineers, and mathematicians,” said Michael Kratsios, Deputy Assistant to the President for Technology Policy, in a news release announcing the new awardees.

The events were organized by the National Science Foundation and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.  

Awardees collaborate on STEM education policy

During the recognition event in Washington, D.C., awardees took part in the first-ever White House State-Federal STEM Education Summit, designed to help inform the development of the next Federal STEM Education 5-Year Strategic Plan. The plan is mandated by the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 to be updated every five years.

During a day-long series of presentations and breakout sessions at the NSF, PAESMEM and PAEMST awardees joined education and workforce development leaders from all 50 states, territories and several Native American tribes to discuss trends in STEM education and future priorities to help enhance the nation’s technological skills among its future workforce.

NSF Director France Córdova set the stage for participants in her opening remarks, noting, “It has long been said that NSF is where discoveries begin. We have since expanded that to say that NSF is where discoveries and discoverers begin, largely because of the work we do fostering the next generation of scientists and engineers.”

During breakout sessions, awardees offered strategies and insights to help improve STEM education, including increasing access to computer science and other technologies among groups that are traditionally underrepresented in STEM.

Recognition ceremony honors teachers, mentors

As part of the recognition event, nearly 150 guests joined awardees to celebrate their accomplishments at a gala awards presentation ceremony and dinner in the majestic Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard of the Smithsonian Institution National Portrait Gallery. “You’re here because you’ve made a difference in your students or mentees’ lives. As they grow and lead new generations towards further discoveries, your legacies will live on,” said Córdova at the ceremony, where awardees received presidential citations and congratulatory letters.

Dr. Keivan Stassun, a professor of physics and astronomy at Vanderbilt University was among the recipients who crossed the stage to receive their presidential citations. Stassun also recently received the 2018 Mentor Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). “To receive this [presidential] award on the heels of the AAAS honor brings me great joy and satisfaction. My job as a mentor is to find the potential in students, to find that diamond in the rough, and through love and care and a little bit of friction, bring out the best.”

The significance of the award also was apparent to PAESMEM organizational award representative Dr. Diana Dalbotten, diversity director at the National Center for Earth-surface Dynamics (NCED) at the University of Minnesota. “It’s been an amazing experience for us to receive this award for the work that we do and to share this award with other colleagues and their programs that are doing outstanding work in STEM mentoring as well,” said Dalbotten.

 In addition to their presidential citations, award recipients also will receive $10,000 grants from NSF, which manages the PAESMEM and PAEMST programs on behalf of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

White House Tour

Before departing Washington, the awardees had a full day, starting with a working breakfast where they discussed strategies to advance excellence in STEM teaching and mentoring and techniques to network with alumni from both programs. Dalbotten said new ideas for collaboration emerged, including the creation of a Facebook page for teachers with common interests and having PAESMEM honorees within specific disciplines connect at their professional associations’ conferences throughout the year.

After breakfast, teachers and mentors made their way to the White House for group photos and a tour. “It was an awesome experience,” said Dalbotten.

A photo gallery featuring highlights of the recognition event may be found online.