In 2002 a young Stephen Anderson was a senior at Episcopal. Even then he loved math and truly excelled in the subject. As a student Stephen was an early bird arriving on campus around 7 am each morning. He was the go-to guy for math tutoring among his fellow classmates and spent many mornings in the Student Center helping frazzled students prepare for exams. True to his talent and ambition, Stephen became a teacher and ultimately returned to his alma mater where he now serves as the Math Department Chair. Even after all these years, he remains committed to helping others understand and appreciate math and his enthusiasm for working with students is obvious. This lifelong commitment to learning has now earned him a spot as a state finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching or PAEMST.
The PAEMST honors have been administered by the National Science Foundation since 1983. According to the award website, “The Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) are the highest honors bestowed by the United States government specifically for K-12 science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and/or computer science teaching. Awardees reflect the expertise and dedication of the Nation’s teaching corps, and they demonstrate the positive impact of excellent teachers on student achievement.” Each year, the President may recognize up to 108 teachers from across the country with the award. Over the years, Episcopal has had several educators receive the honor, including former Math Department Chair Pam Goodner and Anderson’s own mentor, Kay Fenton.
“Being mentioned in the same breath as Kay Fenton is awesome,” says Anderson. He says Fenton played a significant role in inspiring him to become the teacher he is today. “I knew I wanted to teach and having a teacher as gifted as Kay allowed me to achieve that goal,” he says. Anderson uses lessons learned in Fenton’s classroom in his own lessons where he pushes students to learn and understand math, and he is honest and open with them in communicating about their progress. Even though he never had the opportunity to teach alongside Fenton, he is honored to have a connection to her again through the PAEMST.
Former department chair Pam Goodner nominated Anderson for the PAEMST last fall. As you might expect with an award of such magnitude, the application process is grueling. Once Anderson was nominated, he had to submit a resume, essays about his teaching philosophy, letters of recommendation and even a video showing him in action in the classroom. Because teachers are strongly focused on day-to-day activities and preparing for the next lesson, this can be hard, but Anderson says it was also very affirming. “I haven’t thought so carefully about why I do what I do the way I do, since grad school,” he says.
This July, Anderson received the news that he was named a Louisiana finalist. State finalists are chosen by a selection committee made up of mathematicians, scientists, researchers and classroom teachers. Once selected for state recognition, the finalists are eligible for the national honor which is chosen by a national committee of industry experts. Anderson says national honorees will be announced sometime next year. In the meantime, Anderson will be celebrated in Louisiana as an exemplary math teacher. In September, he and the other finalists will be recognized at a luncheon at the Governor’s Mansion. In November, he will also participate in the Louisiana Math and Science Conference.
Certainly, his mentors, colleagues and even his fellow grads from 2002 are not surprised to see Stephen earn PAEMST recognition. It is amazing to think that it all started so long ago with a senior who had a passion for figures and a gift for teaching others.
Episcopal PAEMST Honorees
Kay Fenton – 1996
Linda Fletcher – 1995
Pam Goodner – 2009
Emily Lamont – 1993
Episcopal faculty and staff truly are exceptional. In addition to having a PAEMST honoree on staff, Thesis Director Katie Sutcliffe was named a 2019 U.S. Presidential Scholars Program Distinguished Teacher. Each year, U.S. Presidential Scholar student honorees are asked to name the teacher who has had the biggest impact on his or her life. Episcopal’s Douglas Robins, who was named a 2019 U.S. Presidential Scholar, submitted Sutcliffe as that teacher. “You taught me the most important lesson that I have ever learned: becoming okay with uncertainty,” writes Robins. “You taught me that the human experience is centered around uncertainty and should not be something to dread but something to cherish. You showed me that curiosity should be infectious and how curiosity can change the world.”
Like Anderson, Sutcliffe appreciates the opportunity such recognition provides teachers to pause and appreciate their role as an educator. “It’s nice to realize that what you do is making an impact,” she says. She also values the opportunity to be associated with such amazingly motivated and driven students. “I don’t think students realize that we as teachers are honored to be a part of their work,” she says.
The synergy between Episcopal teachers and students is a key factor in the Episcopal experience. Teachers and students are working together in a way that brings meaning and purpose to their lives. Congratulations to Stephen and Katie and all of the outstanding teachers who give their all to prepare our students to lead the next generation.
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