The third time was the charm for Gretchen Anderson '03 Brinza.
After being an Illinois semi-finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) twice, Brinza took home the 2016 award. The honor was announced in 2018.
"This really validated the work that I do with students from a science perspective, and I feel so honored and humbled to have received it," says Brinza, a fifth- and sixth-grade science teacher at Alcott College Prep in Chicago.
She traveled to Washington, D.C., in the summer of 2018 with her husband, Nate, to accept the award.
"It was absolutely incredible to be around other like-minded teachers," Brinza says.
While there, Brinza and the other awardees participated in the State-Federal STEM Education Summit, hosted by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Their voices will be part of the nation's next five-year strategic plan for STEM education.
"Our country needs to make it a priority that all people have access to STEM programs that meet the needs in their communities," Brinza wrote in a blog about her experience.
Since graduating from Susquehanna with a degree in elementary education, Brinza has been employed in the education field in Chicago. She also holds a master's degree in public service administration from DePaul University.
Brinza, who also received the 2017 Illinois STEM Educator Award, is committed to hands-on, student-led learning.
"When kids take ownership that their ideas matter-even if they're totally wrong or they fail-we've still gotten one step closer to figuring it out. Not all my kids are necessarily going to be in STEM-related careers, but every student can walk out of my room with a problem-solver approach," Brinza says.
Brinza is also an author, pilot teacher and research participant with her students in Next Gen Storylines (nextgenstorylines.org), a project dedicated to providing free, high-quality science curriculum materials for teachers.