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Awards honor outstanding N.C. students and educators in STEM

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  • “As the saying goes the children are one-third of our population, with all of our futures. And our educators make those children believers of tomorrow.” Check out the winners from this year's @smtcenter celebration here.
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The North Caroline Science, Mathematics and Technology Education Center (SMT Center) honored students who excel in STEM competitions and programs, as well as teachers who create special environments in the classroom and beyond to cultivate STEM curiosity, at its annual celebration on April 15.

“As the saying goes, the children are one-third of our population, with all of our futures. And our educators make those children believers of tomorrow.”

Dr. Lou Muglia, president and CEO of the Burroughs Wellcome Fund

The SMT Center’s mission is focused on “improving education as a means of providing all students in North Carolina with the knowledge and skills to have successful careers, be good citizens, and advance the economy of the state.”

The night was four years in the making, as the last in-person celebration was held in 2019, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Award winners and their families traveled from across the state to be there for the night’s ceremony.

Students honored during the evening participated in the North Carolina International Science Challenge, North Carolina Science and Engineering Fair, North Carolina Science Olympiad, and more. Competition winners, finalists, and participants of year-long enrichment programs were recognized alongside educators and the leaders in STEM.

New STEM schools of distinction were honored, as well as local businesses and partnerships who are helping students and teachers with STEM opportunities beyond the classroom.

Here are some of the night’s winners:

Career Award for Science and Mathematics Teachers

These STEM educators are awarded $175,000 over five years. Winners are selected on the basis of their exceptional leadership in their classrooms, schools, and communities.

Ben Davis of Robbinsville High School

Andrea Gladden of East Burke Middle School

Leslie Rhinehart of Polk County Middle School

Thomas Savage of Henderson County Early College

Champion of SMT Award

Judy Girard, co-founder and board chair of Girls Leadership Academy of Wilmington (GLOW)

For connecting and engaging students in STEM education through science and engineering fairs and helping improve education in North Carolina.

Outstanding Informal Educator

Dr. Angelia Reid-Griffin, professor at the UNC-Wilmington

For inspiring students’ love of the natural world, cultivating science as part of their life, and encouraging curiosity and questions about our world.

Student Leadership Award

Ana Ratanaphruk of Wake STEM Early College High School (2016-2020) and Columbia University (2020 – present)

For bridging science and arts to help others understand and appreciate cell biology and encouraging her peers to experience laboratory research.

Outstanding K-8 Educator Award

Rachel Polmanteer, director of resource development at the Center for Inquiry Based Learning

For making a difference in her students’ lives by providing them an opportunity to learn, discover, and explore STEM education.

Outstanding 9-16 Educator

Dr. Coleman Bailey, assistant principal at Charles D. Owens High School

For a lifetime of dedication to educating students in STEM, providing research experiences, and inspiring a love of learning.

Outstanding Instructional Leader

Jeff Edwards, science institute coordinator in Surry County Schools

For creating and framing engaging STEM lessons and activities, and for encouraging resilience in the learning process.

Caroline Parker

Caroline Parker is the director of rural storytelling and strategy for EducationNC. She covers the stories of rural North Carolina, the arts, STEM education and nutrition.