Doctoral Students Win Prestigious Science Education Awards

Both women, who will graduate in 2017, have focused on reaching underrepresented minorities and women in STEM fields.

Florentia Spires

Florentia Spires

Two doctoral students from the Texas Tech University College of Education’sGlobal Pragmatic Researchers in Science Education (PRiSE) program received national awards for science education.

Florentia Spires, a master educator in the District of Columbia Public Schools, received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) for the District of Columbia on July 1. The presidential awards are the nation’s highest honors for math and science teachers. One high school science teacher per state is recognized every other year for teaching excellence.

Jacqueline Fernandez-Romero, the founding STEM educator and STEM director for the Latin American Youth Center Career Academy in D.C., was presented the National Science Teachers Association’s (NTSA) Distinguished Service to Science Education Award. The award is given to two teachers each year who advance science education and science teaching.

Spires applied for her award in 2012. Part of the application was a recorded lesson, and she chose an engineering design lesson. Her students designed and constructed lunar land rovers using cardboard and other materials, then tested them to see which could hold the heaviest load, move the fastest and hold up in the rugged terrain of a simulated moon.

“When I put the materials out the students looked at me like I was absolutely nuts,” she said. “They couldn’t see how this was going to become a vehicle that could actually carry a load and move in different terrains and go over rocks.”

Her students, many of whom were from low-income families, also didn’t expect to build a prototype of a NASA vehicle. The project took them outside of their typical education and opened their minds to a world outside of the inner city.

Florentia Spires

Jacqueline Fernandez-Romero

The award also took into account her many years and experiences as a science educator. Spires has been an Einstein Fellow with the National Science Foundation, a Peace Corps volunteer in Botswana and a master educator with NASA in addition to years as a teacher. As part of her graduate coursework she created a project teaching students about global precipitation and connected classes in D.C. and Nigeria to do the project together. She also runs science projects at the library for students who aren’t in her classes in D.C.

“There’s only one presidential secondary school science teacher awardee per state, so  Florentia is in a rarified group of educators,” said Walter Smith, a professor of education who works closely with the Global PRiSE program.

Fernandez-Romero, who was nominated for her award by the director of academics at her charter school, said the recognition was for her work in empowering and furthering science and science education as much as it was her actual science teaching. She has taught science in schools in San Francisco, New York City and D.C. and now is one of the founding educators of a charter school for 16- to 24-year-olds, many of whom are from low-income families and have struggled with education.

She is particularly focused, as is Spires, on helping minorities and women gain a love of STEM.

“Jacqueline has a passion for helping students get a solid educational grounding to launch them into successful adulthood,” Smith said. “She garners every opportunity she can to strengthen her instruction.”

Fernandez-Romero recently returned from a trip to Japan, which Fulbright Japan sponsored, to look at that country’s education system and consider ways to apply some of their best practices. Only 14 educators and administrators from throughout the United States were selected to go. In October, she will be on the NASA Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) plane to participate in astronomy research.

“Everything I’m learning I’ll bring back to my class,” she said. “It means better instruction, provides me with different alternatives of teaching, enhances my curriculum and makes science even more exciting.”

About the Global PRiSE program

The Global Pragmatic Researchers in Science Education doctorate program is designed for students who want to specialize in STEM education with a global perspective. The coursework is primarily done online; students come to campus for two weeks every summer for the duration of the program.

College of Education

The College of Education at Texas Tech University offers a full range of programs, including 9 doctoral degrees, 10 master's degrees, two bachelor's degrees and numerous specializations which can lead to careers in public or private education as teachers, professors, administrators, counselors and diagnosticians.

Programs in the college are housed in three departments.

The Department of Curriculum & Instruction offers advanced degrees that prepare leaders, researchers, and professors with the knowledge, skills, and practical application experience needed to analyze, construct, and evaluate curricula in ways that create optimal learning conditions for all learners. Language and literacy, bilingual education and STEM education are just a few of the specializations offered by C&I.

The Department of Educational Psychology & Leadership consists of a diverse group of academic programs that equip students with a comprehensive knowledge of learning, motivation, development, and educational foundations. The disciplines of counseling and school psychology are housed within the EP&L department as are programs to prepare future college administrators, primary and secondary school and district leaders, as well as practical and academic educational psychologists.

The Department of Teacher Education focuses solely on teacher preparation, ensuring that teacher candidates are ready for the classroom on day one. The Teacher Education Department is home to TechTeach, an innovative teacher preparation program that puts teacher candidates into public school classrooms for a full year and requires that students pass teacher certification tests prior to entering the classroom. Various paths to teaching careers, including fast-track distance programs statewide and alternative certification options, are also housed in this department.