Leitchfield, Munfordville teachers among 10 selected to attend ‘National STEM Scholar Program’ at WKU

The program provides advanced STEM training, national network building, and project support for middle school science teachers.
Published: May. 18, 2023 at 4:53 PM CDT
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LOUISVILLE (WBKO) – Three Kentucky middle school teachers are among ten teachers from eight states who have been selected to participate in the prestigious National STEM Scholar Program, a professional development program providing advanced STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) training, national network building and project support for middle school science teachers nationwide.

The three Kentucky participants include:

  • James “JJ” Frye, Leitchfield, KY – Grayson County Middle School
  • Jennifer “Jenny” McCall, Lexington, KY – Winburn Middle School
  • Teresa Robertson, Munfordville, KY – Munfordville Elementary School

”I want to make a difference – even if it’s just for one [student],” Robertson said. “I want one of my students to say, ‘Hey, I want to do this because of what she showed me,’ or anything that can help these kids. They need somebody. Like I said, every kid that walks through my door is my kid and they always will be.”

Created in partnership between the National Stem Cell Foundation and The Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science at Western Kentucky University (WKU), the National STEM Scholar Program selects ten teachers each year from a national pool of applicants based solely on the description of a “big idea” Challenge Project the applicant would implement in their classroom if funds were available.

Selected projects are chosen for maximum impact in middle school classrooms where research shows lifelong STEM career decisions are being made. STEM Scholars convene on WKU’s campus for a week of advanced STEM training and finalize their projects with input from their STEM Scholar class colleagues.

Frye said his students will study water contaminants from various sources in Grayson County. He added that some of his students’ homes still use well water, which can be susceptible to contamination.

“Basically what’s going to happen is the kids are going to bring in water samples from a water source of their choice,” Frye said. “They’ll do that several times throughout the year. They’ll break it down. They’ll use those water testing kits that we get in the mail from time to time. They’ll tell me what contaminants are in it, where those contaminants came from and why they’re there.”

The 2023 National STEM Scholar class will be hosted by The Gatton Academy from May 29th to June 2nd on the campus of WKU in Bowling Green, KY. The other seven National STEM Scholars include:

  • Laura Cummings, Haleiwa, HI – Sunset Beach Elementary School
  • Emily Harer, St. Paul, MN – Global Arts Plus - Upper Campus
  • Erin Hullinger, Buxton, ME – Bonny Eagle Middle School
  • Patricia “Pati” Huntington, San Diego, CA – Farb Middle School
  • Michele Mitnitsky, Sanibel, FL – The Sanibel School
  • Sarah StCyr, Sulphur, LA – W.W. Lewis Middle School
  • Kandice Taylor, Jackson, MS – Brinkley Middle School

Studies show that middle school students who become excited about science are the ones who will pursue STEM courses in high school and major in them at the technical and college level, according to a news release from the Gatton Academy and the National Stem Cell Foundation.

“At a pivotal time in decision-making that will open or close the door to opportunity, however, nearly 50% of 8th graders in America lose interest in pursuing the STEM-related subjects increasingly required for 21st-century jobs,” they said.

“This partnership will accrue benefits for the National STEM Scholars, middle school students in their classrooms, and the middle school science teachers with whom they collaborate,” said Dr. Julia Link Roberts, Executive Director of The Gatton Academy. “The National STEM Scholar Program is an excellent way for teachers to learn new strategies and new ways to engage students to help them become and stay interested in science and math.”

Now in its eighth year, there are 80 National STEM Scholars representing middle schools in 33 states. Ninety-one percent teach in public schools, 41% teach in mid- to high-poverty schools and 38% teach in communities with a population under 15,000.

A unique requirement of the program is the responsibility for STEM Scholars to share lessons learned with colleagues in their home schools, districts or states, magnifying impact over multiple classrooms and years.

By June 2023, National STEM Scholars will have directly and indirectly impacted more than 104,000 middle school students in the U.S., the release said.