Montana State University

Four MSU graduates win prestigious presidential awards for excellence in teaching

December 13, 2016 -- By Erin Strickland for the MSU News Service

Four recent graduates of Montana State University’s online master’s degree program in science education have won prestigious Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.

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BOZEMAN — Four recent graduates of Montana State University’s online master’s degree program in science education have won prestigious Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

Jessica Anderson, Jason George, Roby Johnson and Jeff Wehr – all graduates of MSU’s Master of Science in Science Education Program – traveled to Washington, D.C. in September to meet President Barack Obama and receive the award, which recognizes teachers who are inspiring educators and committed to excellence in their field.

The Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching are the highest honors the United States government bestows specifically for K-12 mathematics and science teaching. In addition to the four MSU grads, 209 educators from across the country received the award this year. As part of the recognition, all winners received a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation to use at their discretion.

Established by Congress in 1983, the awards recognize teachers who develop and implement a high-quality instructional program that is informed by content knowledge and enhances student learning. Since the program's inception, more than 4,700 teachers have been recognized for their contributions in the classroom and to their profession. The National Science Foundation administers the awards program on behalf of The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Anderson teaches earth science, chemistry and physics at Powell County High School in Deer Lodge. She also teaches oceanography online through the Montana Digital Academy. George is a high school science teacher at Vision Charter School in Caldwell, Idaho. Johnson is a science teacher at Holgate Middle School in Aberdeen, South Dakota. Wehr is a high school science teacher in Odessa, Washington.

In addition, the MEA-MFT named Anderson the 2016 Montana Teacher of the Year.

One of the main goals of MSU’s Master of Science in Science Education Program – which is often referred to as MSSE – is to create a cadre of science teacher leaders who can actively improve science education at the community, state, regional, national and international levels, according to John Graves, the program’s lead faculty instructor. The program is sponsored jointly by the College of Agriculture; College of Education, Health and Human Development; College of Letters and Science; and The Graduate School

For Graves, the fact that four MSSE graduates received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching is evidence that the goal is being met.

“It’s always nice when you have graduates that are recognized, but I personally am not surprised,” he said. “I know these people and I know the quality of the work that they do.”  

Graves noted that MSSE is MSU’s largest graduate program, with an enrollment of approximately 350 students. He added that about 20 percent of those students are Montana educators, and about half are high school-level teachers, although students from all levels of science education, from kindergarten through college, are enrolled in MSSE. 

Among other goals, the program helps teachers learn how to effectively utilize technology. It also emphasizes inquiry and investigation into students’ own environments, and it encourages supplementing traditional in-class instruction with connecting students to communities engaged in science education around the world.

“The old way of teaching was the isolated single content of science, like chemistry or physics,” Graves said. “Now, it’s more integrated among the science content areas, and also with technology, engineering and mathematics.” 

In order to reach as many working educators as possible, Graves said MSSE offers approximately 70 to 80 percent of its courses online. In the summer, students then come to MSU and take on-campus and field study courses.

Graves said he is proud of Anderson, George, Johnson and Wehr for winning the prestigious award.

“Our goal is that our students leave our programs better teachers,” Graves said. “The evidence of that is that we have national award winners.”

Contact: John Graves, (406) 994-5030 or graves@montana.edu