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National STEM Scholars Announced for 2021

08th June 2021

2021 National STEM Scholars

National Stem Cell Foundation Announces Eleven Middle School Science Teachers from Ten States to Participate in Unique Professional Development Program

By investing in the influential middle school STEM teacher now, program will reach thousands of students in classrooms today and far into the future.

Eleven middle school teachers from ten states have been selected to participate in the prestigious National STEM Scholar Program, a unique professional development program providing advanced STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) training, national network building and project support for middle school science teachers nationwide.

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 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.

The 2021 National STEM Scholar class was hosted by The Gatton Academy May 30th to June 5th on the campus of WKU in Bowling Green, KY. They were joined by one additional Scholar who was selected in 2020 and deferred participation due to COVID-19, creating this year’s cohort of eleven Scholars from ten states:

  • Jaime Camero – Tucson, AZ – Walter Douglas Elementary School
  • Melissa Chesterfield, Shelbyville, KY – Marnel C. Moorman School
  • Susie Dobkins, Billings, MT – Eileen Johnson Middle School
  • Patrick Kyne, Jacksonville Beach, FL – Duncan U. Fletcher Middle School
  • Tara Reinerth, Alloway Township, NJ – Alloway Township School
  • Sarah Slack, Brooklyn, NY – JHS 223 – The Montauk School
  • Jennifer Snead, Temple, TX – North Belton Middle School
  • Chris Stark, Oakham, MA – Central Tree Middle School
  • Srividhya Sudaram, Denville, NJ – Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy
  • Andi Twiss, Brooklyn Center, MN – New Millennium Academy
  • Denise Wright, Myrtle Beach, SC – Ocean Bay Middle School

As a benefit of the program, the Mary Nixon National STEM Scholar Speaker Series brings a national or international thought leader in education to Kentucky each year to spend a day with the STEM Scholar class. This year’s speaker was Dr. Talithia Williams, co-host of the PBS series NOVA Wonders and popular TED speaker. She has made it her life’s work to get people of all ages and backgrounds excited about the bold possibilities of a STEM education and to “STEMpower” women and minorities to enter these professions.

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. 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.

Dr. Paula Grisanti, CEO of the National Stem Cell Foundation, said, “We added education to our mission and partnered with The Gatton Academy in 2015 to support the development of a new generation of scientists in academic research, advanced technology and infrastructure engineering. Supporting teachers who inspire and motivate middle school students at this critical decision-making age will directly impact how many choose to pursue the STEM skills essential for living wage jobs.  By investing in the influential middle school STEM teacher now, we reach thousands of students in classrooms today and far into the future.”

Dr. Julia Link Roberts, Executive Director of The Gatton Academy, added, “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. 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 6th year, there are 60 National STEM Scholars representing middle schools in 29 states. 93% teach in public schools, 43% teach in mid- to high-poverty schools and 41% 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 2021, STEM Scholars will have directly and indirectly impacted an estimated 66,000 middle school students in the U.S.

About the National Stem Cell Foundation
The National Stem Cell Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that funds adult stem cell and regenerative medicine research, connects children with limited resources to clinical trials for rare diseases and underwrites the National STEM Scholar Program for middle school science teachers inspiring the next generation of STEM pioneers nationwide.

About The Gatton Academy
Established in 2007, The Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science is Kentucky’s first state-supported, residential program for high school students with interests in advanced math and science careers. One of only 15 such programs in the nation, The Academy has been named to The Washington Post’s list of top-performing schools with elite students for eight consecutive years. For more information, visit