2023 STEM Research Grant Recipients

The 2022-2023 STEM Research Grant recipients hail from 24 states and the U.S. commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Priority consideration is given to educators who serve students from low-income communities, including students of underrepresented and underserved backgrounds. All recipients teach at the middle and/or high school levels and the majority of this year’s cohort are based at public, Title 1 schools. About 90% of the students served are from low-income communities and 76% are from underrepresented groups, including American Indian, Alaska Native, Black and Latinx demographics.

You can read the full press release here.

Jesika Aghajanian

School: Valley Academy of Arts and Sciences, Granada Hills, California

My name is Jesika Aghajanian, a current Biology teacher who used to yearn becoming a doctor but decided that a career without enlightening and empowering the younger generation was not a career she wanted to spend decades in. Graduated from UCLA with a Cell Biology degree and I am currently working on my Masters in Urban Education. My job is to undo the dislike some students have towards Biology and enhance the love others have for the subject.

Jessica Anderson

School: El Modena High School, Orange, California

This is my 13th year teaching high school science. I have taught all different levels of biology including pre-AP, honors, general and special education pull out. I also have taught Marine biology and general chemistry. My favorite class is the Ecological research class. I have my MA in Education and MS in Biology. I completed undergraduate research and have a passion to share my love for ecology and research with students.

Enrique Arce-Larreta

School: West High School, Salt Lake City, Utah

I teach 180 students in 7th grade science, earth science and IB Physics in an urban city public high school. I’ve been teaching for the past 11 years and love finding ways to have my students do outdoor education.

Karla Arens

School: Campus International School, Cleveland, Ohio

This is my 25th year teaching in Cleveland Metropolitan School District. I teach at Campus International School, which is an authorized IB school (both pyp and myp). I am currently working to build up a design studio that includes 3D printers and tools. This year, I am teaching 7th grade science. Thank you to the CIS school community for all their support.

Stephen Beall

School: City High School, Tucson, Arizona

Steve teaches biology, science and engineering practices, and natural history at City High School in downtown Tucson, AZ. He is also an adjunct life science instructor at Pima Community College. During his teaching career, Steve spent many summers performing educational and technical research at the University of Arizona, and these experiences have made him passionate about getting students involved in original scientific research. During his free time, he enjoys cycling, hiking, kayaking, gardening, and cooking.

Zarah Bermudes

School: Da’ok Academy, Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands

This school year is my first year of teaching Biology, Chemistry & Environmental Science. It is always rewarding to see my students grow and learn to appreciate science. The aspects of STEM Education I enjoy the most is watching my students interact with what they are doing especially during a lab activity. I would like to thank my team at Da’ok Academy most especially my Principal Ms. Christine Tudela for all the support they’ve given me.

Nicholas Bongio

School: Mater Academy East, Las Vegas, Nevada

I have been teaching for over 12 years in universities and high schools. I currently teach Biology, and will teach dual-enrollment Biology next year. I have a PhD in microbial biotechnology, so I’m excited to guide students’ independent biotech research projects. I joined Mater East High School in 2020, the year it opened, so I keep busy helping to build the science program up.

Dian Brannen

School: Township of Ocean Intermediate School, Ocean Twp., New Jersey

My first teaching job was with the Orange County Outdoor Science School in the San Bernardino Mountains. It was here that I fell in love with teaching students using hands-on real world science. After, I spent 3 years teaching science in a rural school in Nebraska followed by 15 years as a stay at home mom. I am currently teaching 7th grade science special education. I am thankful for my students who challenge me every day to be the best teacher I can be by helping them to see that STEM in middle school is not all worksheets and lectures.

Mary Brown

School: John Marshall School of Engineering, Cleveland, Ohio

I have been a science educator for the last ten years and have spent the last 7 years teaching high school sciences at John Marshall School of Engineering in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. I am committed to facilitating learning experiences that empower my scholars to be independent, resourceful, reflective, creative and excited to actively engaged in inquiry and scientific process.

Lequisha Brown-Joseph

School: Barstow Junior High School, Barstow, California

Dr. Lequisha Brown-Joseph aka Dr. LBJ is from New Orleans, LA, but teaches in Barstow, CA. She has been teaching for over 20 years, with a Ph.D. in Education, M. A. Urban Ed, M. A. Education Admiration, and B.S. in Biology Education. Dr. LBJ has worked with students and adults. She currently teaches 7th-grade Life Science and works with adults working on their Ph.D. or Doctorate. She is involved in several writing and research projects with partners. Overall, Dr. LBJ truly values the work she does in the classroom and uses her influence to help her students realize their passion.

Christina Campos

School: West Oso Junior High, Corpus Christi, Texas

I teach STEM, PLTW, and Paxton Patterson courses in grades 7-8th. I have been teaching at WOJH for 5 years. I have had the honor and privilege to work with the CITGO Innovation Academy for 4 years. I am a TAME, Robotics FLL & FTC, STEM Girls, Coach. I work on anything and everything STEM related on our campus from the science fair to our wonderful Outdoor Garden Classroom. I graduated from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi with my bachelor’s in Communications and my Master of Science in Educational Technology and Instructional Design.

Charles Canestaro

School: Cortland High School, Cortland, New York

I have taught physics at Cortland High School in Cortland, NY for the last 10 years. I have degrees in Physics and Math Education from SUNY Cortland and a certificate of STEM Education from the Endeavor STEM Teacher Leader Certificate Project. I started the Cortland chapter of the NYS Science Honor Society and advise the Science Olympiad Team. I really enjoy the phun and relevance of physics to every area of research and individual student interest.

Vida Cantieri

School: Alfred Nobel Dual Language Teacher, Chicago, Illinois

I have been teaching science to middle school students at Alfred Nobel Dual Language School in Chicago for the past fifteen years. I enjoy helping students grow in their understanding and appreciation of the natural world. I particularly enjoy helping students follow their interests and extend their learning through research projects.

Sheena Carbaugh

School: Girls Leadership Academy, Goodyear, Arizona

I have been teaching science for 7 year to High School Students. I was a scientist by trade and I saw a need for scientist in the field of education. I wanted to share my love for science with students and I wanted to help bring young hearts to science. I have been at an all girls high school for 6 of those years and I want women to know that there is a need for them in science and they can do everything a man can do!

Raul Carrillo

School: Blessed Sacrament Catholic School, San Antonio, Texas

I have been teaching at the same school for 11 years and have taught 4th-8th grade Science during my career. I love teaching all levels because I can nurture students’ development as citizen scientists from a young age through middle school. I also sponsor STEM club, where students get to individually explore their scientific passions. My personal interests include robotics and horticulture which I share with my students.

Miranda Dahlke

School: Washington Island, Washington Island, Wisconsin

After 11 years of teaching all different combinations of math, science, social studies, and ELA I am settling into a 7-12 grade Science teaching position on Washington Island. I’ve also had the opportunity to co-teach a STEM elective course for grades 6-8 with our Tech Ed teacher. I’ve focused on integrating Problem Based Learning into my teaching, and have to credit a partnership with MindSpark Learning in causing a major shift in my teaching style.

Rochelle Darville

School: West St John High School, Edgard, Louisiana

Secondary Science educator for with over ten years of experience in promoting STEM education to underrepresented populations. Enjoys teaching youth both in a formal and informal setting, in which students are given an opportunity to experience hands on learning.

Donna Deason

School: Grove Middle School, Grove, Oklahoma

I have been teaching middle school science for 29 years. My career started as a Medical Technologist, but changed to a teaching career after ten years. I took my love of science where I could make a difference in a child’s life. I have promoted scientific research throughout my career. I have encouraged and mentored my students to science fair competitions all of my 29 years. I even had the privilege of sponsoring a student to the ISEF, and that was a lifetime dream.

Mark Eastburn

School: Princeton High School, Princeton, New Jersey

Over the past five years, I have taught a variety of science classes at Princeton High School, as well as co-taught an ever-expanding research program. Building upon my previous work as a Spanish teacher, I focus a great portion of my efforts in supporting our English-Language Learners, the majority of whom come from Central America. Given to my prior experience in the Peace Corps, I feel uniquely challenged every day to find ways of improving the learning environment for my students, and I am grateful to work for a school district that values innovation with outstanding community partners.

Michael Estrella

School: Brooklyn Technical High School, Brooklyn, New York

This is just my second year teaching. I previously worked as a chemist for Brookhaven National Laboratory, completed my Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in biochemistry and completed my postdoctoral training at Princeton University. I was able to become a teacher at my alma mater high school, Brooklyn Technical, and teach a research class along with 12th grade genetics. This opportunity and my experience thus far, have been amazing. I especially enjoy facilitating students develop research projects and execute them. It’s a wonderful sight to behold the transformation of kids going from student to leader and researcher.

Victoria Fulton

School: Daniel McKee Alternative School, Murfreesboro, Tennessee

This is my first year teaching but I am super excited to see what is in store for this and future years! I teach chemistry, biology, and environmental science at an alternative school. One of my favorite things is to do labs with the children and to watch that realization on their faces when they get to see something they’ve learned in action!

Alan Grinsteinner

School: Hill City School District, Hill City, South Dakota

Mr. Grinsteinner has been teaching for 22 years and teaches physical science, chemistry, and physics. He also is certified to teach in mathematics and computer science. In 1993, Mr. Grinsteinner was the South Dakota Presidential Awardee for Teaching Science and Mathematics. His initiative resulted in the expansion of traditional science to include digital sensors and processors such the Arduino Uno and Raspberry Pi. Mr. Grinsteinner strives to create a sense of equity in the classroom, so students freely contribute ideas about science phenomena without fear of feeling inadequate.

Meghan Hess Shamdasani

School: SouthTech Academy, Boynton Beach, Florida

Meghan Hess Shamdasani began teaching high school science in 2011 and focuses on Biology, AP Environmental Science and Biotechnology. Incorporating student research into these core science classes increases student access to independent research. Students in her classes also learn about agriculture while mainring the school’s garden,

Kristen Hickman

School: Roselle Park Middle School, Roselle Park, New Jersey

Over the past 20 years I have taught science courses both at a college level and 8th grade students. Three years ago I was tasked to work with colleagues to expand the STEM program at the Middle School. Being both math and science certified, with a background in forensics, I jumped at the opportunity to increase our project-based learning for students. Now as a club and TSA advisor, I am excited to continue to build the program. This could not have been done without the support of staff and colleagues.

Matthew Holden

School: Fayetteville High School, Fayetteville, Arkansas

I was born and raised in Arkansas and have a strong passion for science and the environment. I have worked for state and federal agencies conducting scientific research focused primarily on ecology and wildlife conservation. One of my goals as an educator is to instill a love of science and inquiry in my students so they can make informed decisions about the environment in the future. As an educator, I strive to implement real-world, authentic lessons, taken from my past experiences conducting scientific research, into my instructional program to help students see the importance of science in their everyday lives.

Andrea Kennedy

School: Congress Middle School, Boynton Beach, Florida

This is my sixth year teaching 8th grade physical and comprehensive science in Palm Beach County. My passion is environmental sciences and helping students to see the value that they contribute to the world.

Jason Kesselring

School: McKinley Classical Leadership Academy, Saint Louis, Missouri

I was a pediatrician for 13.5 years (3 years of residency and 10.5 years of practice.) I elected to change careers, and now I am in my fifth year of teaching high school science. I still work with young people, but in a different setting now! I have too many people to thank! I am honored to work with (and have worked with) wonderful colleagues and students. I honestly believe that working with young people is the best job. I always have to think!!!

Edwina Kinchington

School: Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

I have been a high school teacher for 14 years in an urban district after a career in cancer research. My passion is opportunities for students and bridging what the students learn in the classroom to the real world. I believe students best learn science by doing science. I thank SOS and my school principal for allowing me to go outside of my four walls to engage students!

Cynthia King

School: Wilkinson County High School, Woodville, Mississippi

I have 18 years of teaching 9th -12th grade Biology, Chemistry and Physical Science. Many of my teaching interest include Science fair, Science Club, and Stem club. I am also a proud member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority , Inc

Kris Larsh

School: Stonewall Public Schools, Stonewall, Oklahoma

I have been teaching for over 5 years now. I have only taught science during my teaching time. I teach grades 5-8 at the middle school where I teach. My special interest is technology, environmental science, and advanced STEM research. My students also take part in many science fairs at local universities in the area. Our science fair projects range from agriculture, environmental science, and modern technology advancements.

Xue Qing Liang

School: New Utrecht High School, Brooklyn, New York

I started my high school teaching career in 2016, fresh out of college. To serve my emergent bilinguals the best, I pursued my master degree in science education, master degree in adolescent Chinese, and a bilingual certificate. Personally, chemistry is a fascinating language. I am delighted when my students “speak” fluently with me and express their interest in studying the subject in college. With my school’s support, One Catalyst Research Club will be able to continue to gather all these future scientists to discuss, explore, and scrutinize STEM.

Cristian Medina

School: Somerville High School, Somerville, Massachusetts

I am a former research scientist with 20 years of experience in the field of geology. My passion for teaching young minds inspired me to change careers to teach physics to high school students. I particularly enjoy those moments when my students realize that there is a scientist inside of everyone. It is a privilege for me to be able to spend time in the classroom with my students. I see so much potential in these young minds!

Brittany Mendez

School: Harmony School of Innovation, Brownsville, Texas

Ms. Brittany Mendez, MS, is a 9th grade English teacher from South Texas; she has been teaching for a little over 6 years both STEM and English courses. Throughout this time, she has represented her community in various events and internships where she shared her expertise with the public. She continuously strives to intertwine her enthusiasm for both English and STEM education in the lives of her students. Mendez is very proud of her students and all of their accomplishments thus far; she is ecstatic about her students’ future endeavors and thanks them for their unwavering support throughout the years.

Frankie Morin

School: Collins Hill High School, Suwanee, Georgia

I am a chemistry teacher who loves engaging in the WHY questions. I love learning new science and am always excited to have my students teach me something new. In my free time, I love being outside, hanging out with my dogs and my family.

Amanda Nix

School: North Toole County Junior Senior High School, Sunburst, Montana

I have been teaching 7-12 science at small, rural schools in North Central Montana for 19 years. I have taught just about every possible science course out there at some point, but my passion is for mentoring student research and competing in science fairs. I love finding opportunities for students to engage with the world around them, understand it’s interconnectedness, and discover what amazing things they are capable of.

Maureen Obiesie

School: East High School, Kansas City, Missouri

Maureen Obiesie is a sheltered science teacher at East High School, Kansas City, Missouri, and her students are mostly emerging bilinguals from South America, Africa, Asia, and Middle East. She has not less than six different languages as L1 of the students in her classroom, and all her students are at English Language proficiency levels 1 or 2. She holds a Ph. D in Science Education and has the state of Missouri Certifications in Biology 9-12, Chemistry 9-12, and English Language Learners K-12. She is originally from Nigeria.

Rebekah Pettit

School: Palm Springs Middle School, Palm Springs, Florida

I am an author, educator, and zoologist in South Florida with a passion for reptile conservation. After spending years working with wild animals, I went into the classroom to combine my love for wildlife education and children. I especially love turtles and have a passion for protecting the misunderstood and often overlooked species of the planet, like reptiles. Sharing this with students who do not have the opportunity to access these animals is extremely rewarding and beautiful. It’s amazing to see fear transformed into compassion. I love spending time exploring nature and Florida’s natural ecosystems and advocating for practical conservation.

Eual Phillips

School: Hill-Freedman World Academy, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Eual Phillips has served as a science educator for eight years, teaching high school students in algebra, chemistry, and sports, exercise, health science. Using his prior experience as a biomedical engineer and laboratory manager, Eual seeks to deliver non-traditional experiences that lead students to reimagine the significance of science in their lives.

Nate Raynor

School: Mescalero Apache School, Mescalero, New Mexico

Nate Raynor educator and mentor at Mescalero Apache School. He has been at Mescalero Apache School for over 13 years. He is constantly improving the school STEM. He loves working all students at the school (K-12th).

Tiska Rodgers

School: Hayti HIgh School, Hayti, Missouri

I have been teaching science for 19 years including but not limited to biology, anatomy & physiology, environmental science, and chemistry in small rural school districts. I enjoy teaching my students across several courses because it allows me to help them make connections between the subjects and reinforce that the disciplines are interconnected. I especially enjoy seeing my students complete independent research projects and become more confident in their science knowledge and in themselves. I would like to thank my school district for allowing me to continue to grow my science program.

Emily Smith

School: Richards Middle School, Lawrenceville, Georgia

I am currently in my 5th year teaching 8th grade HS Physical Science. I have a Bachelors degree in Physical Chemistry as well as my ESOL certification, and I am pursuing a Masters in Instructional Technology.

Bonnie Sorenson

School: Holtville High School, Holtville, California

I have been teaching for 25 years with a Sciences CA credential with emphasis on the Biological science. I have taught college and high school level students. I also have a medical’s doctor degree revalidated in Sacramento, CA. I won a nation-wide Lexus Eco-Challenge Competition with my students in 2019 for $10,000 dollars in relation to research in the water of the Salton Sea in Imperial County which I kept doing since 2008 with my previous students collecting the data. STEM Research Grants is a great motivation for our students and myself to study careers and do more research to find solutions in our world.

Lacey Soriano

School: G.Holmes Braddock, Miami, Florida

Lacey Soraino is a Teacher in the Science department at her former alma matter, G. Holmes Braddock Senior High School. She is a first-generation graduate from FIU, holding two degrees in Biology and Natural Science. MrsSoraino is a Robert Noyce Scholar and was a core member of the teacher prep initiative, FIUteach. She is currently teaching AICE Environmental Science and Experimental Science.

Katie Southard

School: Salem High School, Salem, Arkansas

I am in my 8th year of teaching and have taught Biology, AP Biology, Environmental Science, Physical Science, Anatomy & Physiology, Grade 8 Integrated Science, and Grade 7 Integrated Science for grades 7-12 over the course of my career. I currently teach Grade 7 Integrated Science and 10th Grade Biology. Life Science is where my heart is, and it is important to me to try and instill that love in my students as well, specifically the young women, in order to hopefully inspire students to work toward a career in STEM.

Bradley Spencer

School: North Park Elementary School, Roy, Utah

Bradley found his passion for science as a student in the aerospace engineering program at Utah State University. Bradley is currently in his 5th year of teaching and works as a 6th grade science teacher in Utah. Bradley has served as a science specialist in his district for the last 4 years helping design curriculum and preparing training on science.

Michelle Spigner

School: Spring Valley High School, Columbia, South Carolina

This is my 20th year teaching and I have enjoyed every year! I currently teach Biology II, AP Biology and AP Research to mostly juniors and seniors. I hold certifications to teach biology, chemistry, physics, AP Biology, AP Research and Gifted and Talented courses. I am currently pursuing my Ed.D. in Educational Practice and Innovation with a concentration in STEM Education at the University of South Carolina with a plan to graduate in December 2023. I receive great joy in teaching science to my students and seeing the connections they make every day. I love my job!

Emily Stafford

School: Columbia Central High School, Columbia, Tennessee

I have been a high school science educator for over 20 years. Although I’ve dabbled in teaching almost all science courses, my favorite to teach is Chemistry and Scientific Research. Fostering an appreciation and hopefully love for the sciences in my students is what drives me. I enjoy showing students all of the possibilities that a career in the sciences can afford and hearing their excitement when they are off in college pursuing those careers.

Chad Taflinger

School: Marianas High School, Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands

This is my 18th year teaching science. I have taught all subjects from middle school science to high school Biology, Chemistry, STEM, and human anatomy. What I love about teaching is seeing the joy that students get while doing hands on work. Being able to have access to technology brings Science to life. I would like to thank Mr. Ogumoro and Mr. Nathan Van E for there assistance in helping me apply for this grant.

Sergio Torres

School: Native American Community Academy, Albuquerque, New Mexico

As a researcher and educator, I have been engaged in multidisciplinary projects in industry and academic sectors across pharmaceutical/biomedical, genomics, and environmental science areas. I have taught college level/dual credit/AP science and high school science courses since 2006. Courses include biology, chemistry, anatomy and physiology, microbiology, biotechnology, biochemistry, research classes, and environmental science. Support from my alma mater undergraduate university, NM Tech, and the Center for NM Archeology will facilitate our work in “thinking outside the box” and understanding the natural and physical world.

Kiara Vann

School: Stratford STEM High School, NASHVILLE, Tennessee

My name is Dr. Kiara T. Vann, and I have been teaching at Stratford STEM High School for two years. I am a co-teacher in the Interdisplincinary Science and Research program; I teach 9th through 12 grade. The areas I enjoy teaching are neuroscience and olfactory function. I want to thank Steven Jeffrey Vann for his constant support throughout this journey.

Desiree Weaver

School: Susquehanna Township Middle School, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

My interest in science began when I won my first competition in second grade by winning a dinosaur essay contest. It continued when I passed the PA state EMT exam at 15 years of age. I have been teaching science in some capacity since 1997 and have woven a STEAM curriculum into any content I present. I hold degrees in biology and health and have educated both high school and middle schoolers in various subjects over the years.

Eusebius Williams

School: Roosevelt Middle School, West Palm Beach, Florida

I have been teaching for 24 years. I love what I do teaching science. Teaching science I feel is a wonderful way of touching tomorrow leaders.