STEM education superstars: Meet 3 inspiring teachers honored at the GeekWire Awards

STEM education superstars: Meet 3 inspiring teachers honored at the GeekWire Awards
The GeekWire Awards’ STEM Educator of the Year honorees, from left to right: Devina Khan, instructional designer at the West Valley Innovation Center; Stephanie Winslow, teacher at South Kitsap High School; and Johanna Brown, teacher at Pullman High School. (Photos courtesy of Khan, Winslow and Brown)

In a world without terrific STEM teachers there would be fewer tech entrepreneurs and cutting-edge innovators that are honored each year at the GeekWire Awards.

Luckily for all of us, in school districts large and small across Washington state, hardworking educators are inspiring a future CEO of the Year or grooming the Next Tech Titan. And we’ve selected three exemplary teachers to honor with our STEM Educator of the Year category at this year’s GeekWire Awards.

These instructors aren’t just standouts in the classroom. They’re also leading multiple extracurricular initiatives, exploring new approaches and mentoring fellow teachers. They’re spearheading suites of initiatives that would be impressive for a corporate executive to tackle — but keep in mind that they’re accomplishing this work in schools filled with passionate, brilliant, hormonal, exhausted, energetic children. Lots and lots of children.

The sponsor for this award, now in its second year, is once again DreamBox Learning. Keep reading to learn more about the three honorees for STEM Educator of the Year.

Stephanie Winslow, teacher at South Kitsap High School, district science curriculum coordinator

Stephanie Winslow, teacher at South Kitsap High School. (South Kitsap High Photo)

As a teacher of AP environmental science, astronomy and earth science classes, and as an advisor for STEM Club and the Link Crew leadership program, Stephanie Winslow has personally touched the lives of countless students.

Her classroom inspires them, from her “Women in Science” poster, to perspective-bending M.C. Escher optical illusions, to a full-size astronaut suit. “The face plate is dark,” Winslow said. “It could be anyone — anyone can be an astronaut!”

Her lessons engage them, like during COVID-19 when she partnered with Puget Sound Naval Shipyard to send kits home to make LED-based electronics.

But Winslow’s reach is even wider. She is also committed to building a lasting, robust STEM education program across schools. She serves as the district science curriculum coordinator for secondary schools. Winslow has led efforts to secure numerous grants to bolster the educational resources available in her South Kitsap district, located a ferry ride from Seattle.

“Through educating our staff, advocating for change, and maintaining relevance of STEM content, she is truly shaping the STEM opportunities district wide,” said Sara Hatfield, the supervisor who nominated Winslow for the award.

Some of her other accomplishments include:

  • one of the first STEM-certified career and technical educators in Washington;
  • the lead for the district’s National Math Science Education grant partnership;
  • and securing a STEM Capital Projects Grant that provided funding for updating classrooms.

Johanna Brown, teacher at Pullman High School, coach for Knowledge Bowl and Science Bowl teams

Johanna Brown, teacher at Pullman High School. (Pullman High Photo)

While Johanna Brown has brought established, high-achieving programs including AP chemistry and AP computer science to her Eastern Washington high school, she’s also torn up the standard playbook for instruction.

Brown has embraced a “gradeless” classroom where instead of accumulating points, students demonstrate their mastery of subjects through inquiry, project-based learning, and explaining the science. She holds conferences with students to talk about their education and growth as individuals.

Brown is teaching green, sustainable chemistry. She highlights accomplishments of scientists from under-represented groups.

“Her goal is to create spaces that celebrate the humanity of students, and help them bring their whole selves to their learning,” said Melissa Mayer, the colleague who nominated Brown for the award.

And Brown makes science fun and relevant. While kids were remote during COVID, she created home lab kits that included baking bread and dissolving Pixy Stix to create endothermic reactions. She brings in guest teachers, including a “poop scientist” who studies the breakdown of dairy cow waste, a Frito Lay food scientist who explained how chips get their shapes, and local undergraduate researchers using liquid nitrogen to clean moon dust off of spacesuits.

Some of Brown’s other accomplishments include:

  • her school this year received a Female Diversity in Computer Science Award from the AP Program for the number of female students enrolled in Brown’s class and the number who passed the AP exam;
  • 2021 finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching;
  • coached her Science Bowl team to this spring’s national contest being held in May;
  • and she won the American Chemical Society’s award for excellence in high school teaching for the Northwest region.

Devina Khan, computer science and information technology instructional designer at the West Valley Innovation Center, former teacher at West Valley Junior High School in Yakima County

Devina Khan, instructional designer at the West Valley Innovation Center. (West Valley Innovation Center Photo)

For Devina Khan’s students, their geographic location, age and gender are no barriers to success in computer science.

Khan is an educator in West Valley, a rural town in Central Washington’s agriculturally rich Yakima County.

She has promoted tech education for middle school students, guiding them to earning Microsoft certifications in seventh grade. Three of her students from the West Valley Innovation Center won the Congressional App Challenge this year, developing a pandemic-inspired app called Beating Heart Health. It includes a sleep calculator, relaxing music and a compliment generator.

Khan has partnered with the nonprofit IGNITE (Inspiring Girls Now In Technology Evolution) Worldwide. The Seattle-based organization helped her connect students with STEM professionals at Google, Pixar, Facebook, Amazon, T-Mobile, Tesla and Microsoft.

Khan has teamed up with some of her students to develop and co-teach tech education classes to the broader West Valley population.

Their tech program “promotes equity and inclusion by providing technology courses to underrepresented communities that lack skills needed to thrive in today’s workforce,” said Caitlin Duke, the colleague who nominated Khan for the GeekWire award.

Some of Khan’s other accomplishments include:

  • working as an adjunct instructor and affiliate faculty member at Central Washington University;
  • volunteering to assist senior citizens with tech troubleshooting and education, as well as offering tech education for the community;
  • and serving as a youth group advisor and mentor for 10-18 year olds in Yakima.

The GeekWire Awards recognize the top innovators and companies in Pacific Northwest technology. Our STEM educator honorees and other award finalists were selected based on community nominations, along with input from GeekWire Awards judges.

There’s no voting in this category; all three honorees are winners. Community voting across other categories will continue until April 22, combined with feedback from judges to determine the winner in each category. You can vote for your picks across all categories in the GeekWire Awards ballot.

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A big thanks to Astound Business Solutions, the presenting sponsor of the 2022 GeekWire Awards.

Also, thanks to gold-level and category sponsors: Wilson Sonsini, ALLtech, JLL, DreamBox Learning, Blink UX, BECU, Baird, Fuel Talent, RSM, Aon, Meridian Capital, and WTIA. And thanks to silver level sponsors: J.P. Morgan Chase, Material+, and Tomo.

If interested in sponsoring a category or purchasing a table sponsorship for the event, contact us at [email protected]