Katy Teacher from Beckendorff Junior High School Selected as 2024 National STEM Scholar

National Stem Cell Foundation and The Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science Announce Selection of Nine Middle School Science Teachers in Eight States to Participate in Unique Professional Development Program 

By Investing in Influential Middle School STEM Teachers, Program Reaches Thousands of Students in Classrooms Today and Far into Future 

KATY, Tex. (May 21, 2024) – Bridget McDonald, a 7th grade science teacher from Beckendorff Junior High School in Katy, Tex., is among nine teachers from eight states who have been selected to participate in the prestigious National STEM Scholar Program, a unique professional development program providing advanced STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) training, national network building and project support for middle school science teachers nationwide.

Created in partnership between the National Stem Cell Foundation and The Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science at Western Kentucky University (WKU), the National STEM Scholar Program selects teachers each year from a national pool of applicants based solely on the description of a “big idea” Challenge Project the applicant would implement in their classroom if funds were available. Selected projects are chosen for maximum impact in middle school classrooms where research shows lifelong STEM career decisions are being made. STEM Scholars convene on WKU’s campus for a week of advanced STEM training and finalize their projects with input from their STEM Scholar class colleagues.

“I am deeply honored to have been selected as a National STEM Scholar and hope my work sparks my students’ interest in STEM subjects, preparing them for real-world challenges and inspiring them towards future STEM careers,” said Bridget McDonald. “Being a STEM Scholar will provide access to networks that can support innovative classroom activities and facilitate connections with other educators, scientists, and STEM professionals. The National STEM Scholar Program supports my goal as a teacher to promote creativity, inspire students to think critically, experiment, and develop innovative solutions to problems.”

The 2024 National STEM Scholar class will be hosted by The Gatton Academy from May 26 to June 1 on the campus of WKU in Bowling Green, Ky.:

  • Katie Duff, Manhattan, Ill. – Manhattan Junior High School
  • Heather Febres, Orlando, Fla. – Pershing K-8 School
  • Angela Kopp, Overland Park, Kans. – Holy Cross Catholic School
  • Bridget McDonald, Katy, Tex. – Beckendorff Junior High School
  • Sarah Nelson Wiese, Omaha, Nebr. – Bryan Middle School
  • Samantha Poll, Hampden, Maine – Samuel L. Wagner Middle School
  • Nicole Slowik, Vestavia Hills, Ala. – Liberty Park Middle School
  • Kourtney Taylor, Stanford, Ky. – Lincoln County Middle School
  • Eliza Vela, San Antonio, Tex. – Longfellow Middle School

Studies show that middle school students who become excited about science are the ones who will pursue STEM courses in high school and major in them at the technical and college levels. At a pivotal time in decision-making that will open or close the door to opportunity, however, nearly 50% of 8th graders in America lose interest in pursuing the STEM-related subjects increasingly required for 21st-century jobs.

Dr. Paula Grisanti, CEO of the National Stem Cell Foundation, said, “We added education to our mission and partnered with The Gatton Academy in 2015 to support the development of a new generation of scientists in academic research, advanced technology, and infrastructure engineering. Supporting teachers who inspire and motivate middle school students at this critical decision-making age will directly impact how many choose to pursue the STEM skills essential for living-wage jobs. By investing in the influential middle school STEM teacher now, we reach thousands of students in classrooms today and far into the future.”

Dr. Julia Link Roberts, Executive Director of The Gatton Academy, added, “This partnership will accrue benefits for the National STEM Scholars, middle school students in their classrooms, and the middle school science teachers with whom they collaborate. The National STEM Scholar Program is an excellent way for teachers to learn new strategies and new ways to engage students to help them become and stay interested in science and math.”

Now in its 9th year, there are 90 National STEM Scholars representing middle schools in 35 states. 91% teach in public schools, 41% teach in mid- to high-poverty schools, and 39% teach in communities with a population under 15,000. A unique requirement of the program is the responsibility for STEM Scholars to share lessons learned with colleagues in their home schools, districts or states, magnifying impact over multiple classrooms and years. By June 2025, National STEM Scholars will have directly and indirectly impacted more than 146,000 middle school students in the U.S.

About the National Stem Cell Foundation
The National Stem Cell Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that funds adult stem cell and regenerative medicine research, underwrites the National STEM Scholar Program for middle school science teachers inspiring the next generation of STEM pioneers nationwide, and covers copays and deductibles for children participating in clinical trials for rare diseases when those out-of-pocket costs are beyond a family’s means. For more information, visit www.nationalstemcellfoundation.org.

About The Gatton Academy

Established in 2007, The Gatton Academy is Kentucky’s first residential two-year program for gifted and talented juniors and seniors. The Gatton Academy’s students enroll as juniors and are full-time WKU students pursuing their interests in advanced science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The Gatton Academy is a recipient of the 2022 Inspiring Programs in STEM Award from Insight Into Diversity Magazine and the Innovation Partnership Award from the National Consortium for Secondary STEM Schools.