Local native honored with highest U.S. award for teachers, mentors in STEM

Published 9:33 am Thursday, October 4, 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), with the National Science Foundation (NSF), has announced that more than 140 individuals and organizations will be honored with presidential awards for their excellence in teaching or mentoring in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
Among those to be honored is Heather Burgess Simpson, an Americus native. Simpson has taught all subjects of kindergarten at Hueytown Elementary School in Hueytown, Ala., for 10 years. She previously taught kindergarten at Sumter County Primary School in Americus. Simpson increases mathematical discourse and problem-solving abilities in her students. She includes problem-based learning and collaboration in her mathematics instruction. She strives for her students to view themselves as mathematicians, engineers, and leaders of their own learning. One of her favorite experiences about teaching is watching her students set, work toward, and achieve their learning goals. She enjoys presenting professional development and leads sessions at the school, district, and state level. She is a trainer for the Alabama Math, Science, and Technology Initiative. She loves serving as the Grade Level Chair, and is a member of her school’s Lighthouse Team. She has also been a professional learning community facilitator and a cooperating teacher for several student teachers. She was a 2004 Honor Graduate of Southland Academy, earned a bachelor of science, magna cum laude, in early childhood education from Georgia Southwestern State University. She also holds a master’s degree in early childhood education and an education specialist degree in teacher leadership from The University of Alabama at Birmingham. She is certified in early childhood and elementary education. She is the daughter of Ricky and Denise Burgess of Americus. Her brother Scott Burgess teaches math in the Schley County Schools.
Kindergarten through sixth grade teachers will receive the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST), and mentors will receive the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM).
“On behalf of the White House I am honored to express the Nation’s gratitude for the tireless dedication that these men and women bring to educating the next generation of scientists, engineers, and mathematicians,” said Michael Kratsios, Deputy Assistant to the President for Technology Policy. “Each day more and more jobs require a strong foundation in STEM education, so the work that you do as teachers and mentors helps ensure that all students can have access to limitless opportunities and the brightest of futures.”
Awardees represent schools in all 50 U.S. states, Department of Defense Education Activity schools and schools in the U.S. territories American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
During a visit to the nation’s capital, award recipients will each receive a presidential citation at an awards ceremony and participate in discussions on STEM and STEM education priorities led by OSTP and NSF. Recipients will also receive $10,000 from NSF, which manages the PAEMST and PAESMEM programs on behalf of the White House.
Presidential award for K-12 teachers
Established in 1983, PAEMST is the highest award kindergarten through 12th grade mathematics and science (including computer science) teachers can receive from the U.S. government. The award alternates years between kindergarten through sixth grade and seventh-12th grade teachers. This year, on the award’s 35th anniversary, kindergarten through sixth grade teachers will be honored.
Nominees complete a rigorous application process that requires them to demonstrate their excellence in content knowledge and ability to adapt to a broad range of learners and teaching environments.
A panel of distinguished mathematicians, scientists and educators at the state and national levels assess the applications before recommending nominees to OSTP. Teachers are selected based on their distinction in the classroom and dedication to improving STEM education.
Presidential award for STEM mentors
PAESMEM recognizes the critical roles mentors play outside the traditional classroom in the academic and professional development of the future STEM workforce.
Colleagues, administrators, and students nominate individuals and organizations for exemplary mentoring sustained over a minimum of five years. Since 1995, PAESMEM has honored the hard work and dedication mentors exhibit in broadening participation in the STEM pipeline.
Mentors support learners from the kindergarten through collegiate levels, as well as those who recently have started their careers in STEM. They share their expertise and guidance with learners, sometimes through formal mentoring programs. Learners are often from traditionally underrepresented groups in STEM.
For more information about PAEMST and PAESMEM, please visit their websites.