Obama Cites Three Education Alumni for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

From left: John Heffernan, Karen Schweitzer, Keith Wright.
From left: John Heffernan, Karen Schweitzer, Keith Wright.

The College of Education can claim as its own at least three of the 213 recipients of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching announced by President Barack Obama on Aug. 22.

Four teachers from each U.S. state and territory were selected for the award, which recognizes contributions in the classroom and to the profession. It is the highest recognition that a kindergarten through 12th grade mathematics or science (including computer science) teacher may receive for outstanding teaching in the United States.

Presidential awardees receive a certificate signed by the president, a trip to Washington D.C. to attend a series of recognition events and professional development opportunities, and a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation.

All three awardees with roots in the College of Education teach locally:

  • Karen Schweitzer, a veteran third grade teacher at the Anne T. Dunphy School in Williamsburg, earned her undergraduate degree in early childhood education here before earning a master’s degree in mathematics teaching at Mount Holyoke College. Drawing on a 32-year career, Schweitzer has been part of an ongoing series of projects funded by the National Science Foundation and has provided professional development in mathematics and mathematics education for pre-service and in-service teachers around the country.

  • John Heffernan, a pre-kindergarten through sixth grade technology teacher at the Anne T. Dunphy School for the past 12 years, is currently completing a doctorate in STEM education here, after completing a master’s degree in elementary education and an education specialist degree from Lesley University and UMass Amherst respectively. He previously taught third grade in Amherst for seven years, was an educational technology consultant for the Collaborative for Educational Services and was a principal software engineer for Digital Equipment Corporation. He is the author of “Elementary Engineering: Sustaining the Natural Engineering Instincts of Children” and is a member of the LEGO Education Advisory Panel.

  • Keith Wright, who has joined the chemistry faculty of Hampshire Regional High School following 10 years at the Springfield Renaissance School, earned a B.A. in political science, an M.Ed. in secondary science education and an M.S. in natural resource conservation here. He aims to help students build on their interests and develop new knowledge through real-world fieldwork experiences. He is a Noyce Master Teaching Fellow.

Neil Plotnick, a special education teacher from Everett, was the state’s fourth awardee. He earned a master’s degree in education at UMass Boston.



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