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Building Educator Capacity through the DoD STEM Ambassador Program

According to the Department of Defense STEM website, teachers selected for the DoD STEM Ambassador program show a commitment to working with students who have been historically underrepresented in STEM and/or are military-connected. Nominations for the program come from the Defense STEM Education Consortium (DSEC), a collective of corporate, non-profit and government organizations with the goal of broadening STEM literacy to develop a diverse and agile workforce.  

For the 2021-22 school year, Kirsten Manning, an AP Physics teacher at Woodside High School in Newport News, VA, received NMSI’s nomination for the program. She shares how the role continues to enrich her teaching experience since we last spoke in Fall 2021.

“To be honest, when I got the position, I wasn’t exactly sure what we would be expected to do,” says Manning. “But it turned out to be a very enjoyable experience. Our managers Eric and Jessica [Moore and Kesler, respectively, of TGR Foundation who manage the program] did a phenomenal job leading us into that role.”  

During the school year, the ambassadors are involved in monthly meetings (for the 2021-22 cohort year, the meetings were virtual due to pandemic precautions). Each meeting features representatives from various STEM organizations who provide resources that attendees can share with their school and districts. Manning looks forward to a specific resource that will not only help her school, but her entire Tidewater region in Newport News, VA.  

“We discovered organizations that help design STEM hubs or ecosystems for different regions across the country. While there isn’t one in our area yet, we were able to connect with the people who are planning a similar hub here. This will allow us to get in on the ground floor of this educational opportunity.”  

Along with a personal stipend, ambassadors receive funds to create and share STEM lesson plans and tools. There are also professional development and networking opportunities throughout the U.S.  

“I attended a conference recently and represented NMSI. It was not a conference I would have taken on myself. But because I was given the opportunity to select it, attend and present, it’s opening new doors for me in the coming school year. It’s just been one grand opportunity after another!” 

In addition to the ambassador duties, Manning also shared an update on the science elective she designed for Woodside High.  

“It’s a design-based learning program and the students have a lot of freedom to decide what project they want to work on. It’s been received well by the students, administrators and the district. I’m excited about what year two will bring.”  

As the 2022-23 school year begins, Manning credits the new science elective and her experience in the ambassador program for being anchors during the turbulence of the previous school year.  

“In addition to addressing the learning loss with my students during last year, I lost both of my parents and had to come to terms with that. As I entered my 20th year of teaching in January [2022], I was almost ready to give it up. But during the recent conference I attended for NMSI, I asked two teachers who’d been teaching much longer than me how they keep going. They said you must find something to reignite that spark. I feel the new science elective is that spark for me because I’m really excited about the fresh learning opportunities for my students.” 

NMSI educators selected for the DoD STEM Ambassador are also involved with our College Readiness Program. Interested in learning how this program can impact teachers and administrators on your campus? Contact us