By Valerie Franchi, Contributing Writer
Marlborough – In a field dominated by men, two local women were recently honored in the Massachusetts STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) Teacher of the Year competition.
Kelly Powers, a computer science teacher and department chair at the Advanced Math and Science Academy (AMSA) Charter School, and Alexia Forhan, science teacher at Assabet Valley Regional Technical High School (AVRHS), were recognized by Governor Deval Patrick at the Nov. 13 Massachusetts STEM Summit at the Hall at Patriot Place at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.
Powers was named STEM Teacher of the Year and received a crystal trophy and $5,000 to spend on STEM education at AMSA. Four finalists, including Forhan, received $1,000.
“I didn's even know I had been nominated until April when the finalists were announced,” Powers said. “It was a total surprise.”
She is the inaugural winner of the award, chosen by a committee comprised of members from the Hall at Patriot Place, the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education, and Raytheon.
Powers, who is co-president of the Computer Science Teachers Association and founder of the Boston chapter, has previously been recognized with the National Center for Women in Technology (NCWIT) Aspirations in Computing Educator Award and with the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council (MTLC) Technology Leadership Award.
She said it was very exciting to have a computer science teacher selected as STEM Teacher of the Year. “Computer science was for a long time absent from the STEM movement,” she noted. “But in the last 15 years, it has been gaining positive momentum.”
At AMSA, computer science is required in grades 6 to 11. “We don's have to spend energy advocating for the discipline,” Powers said. “We can spend more time engaging the kids and exciting them.”
Powers has introduced several new programs to her school, including the GEMS Program (Girls Engaged in Math, Science and Computer Science), which involves high school seniors mentoring middle school girls in mobile app development.
She also launched the Technovation Challenge program at AMSA. The program is a science-education nonprofit that helps engineers, scientists, and high-tech professionals bring cutting edge science, technology, and engineering to high school girls and underprivileged minority children and their families.
Forhan, who teaches biology and forensic science at Assabet Valley, is also a strong advocate for equality in the STEM disciplines and has three daughters in STEM-related fields. “Science and technology should be for everyone,” she said.
Forhan's students have benefitted from more than $150,000 in grant awards, including a recent grant for $90,000 that she was instrumental in securing. This grant money has allowed for the creation of a 21st-century classroom using the most current technology available.?Students are using iPads, net books, and Macintosh computers in the classroom, as well as hand-held digital microscopes and?innovative science equipment.
When asked how she would use the $1,000 awarded to her as a STEM Teacher of the Year finalist, Forhan explained that she asked students for their input. “They came up with a lot of neat things,” she said, “not all of them feasible.”
She said she was considering purchasing wireless handheld microscopes for the forensic science program.