Meet ADE Award Finalists: Kate Allender, Melissa Wrenchey & Mike Town

By Jenny Burns, Community Coordinator for Allen Distinguished Educators
February 1, 2016

This enthusiastic teaching team works together to bring computer science, engineering and entrepreneurship education to 9th through 12th graders at Nikola Tesla STEM High School in Redmond, WA. These three are working together to lead and develop the Integrating Engineering and Technology Utilizing Contest Based mentorships and Partnership Between Rural and Suburban Schools To Address Societal Problems program.


Kate-Allender-_-Allen-Distinguished-Educators-(ADE)-Award-Finalist.jpgKate Allender graduated from the College of Wooster in Ohio with a degree in Biochemistry and a minor in Political Science. During her undergraduate studies, she performed extensive research in the areas of electroluminescence and lyotropic liquid crystals. After graduating from college, she volunteered with AmeriCorps in Charleston SC, then moved out West to pursue her teaching career. In 2000, she started teaching at Redmond High School (RHS) and taught Chemistry, Physics, AP Biology, and Forensic Science. She received her Master’s in Teaching from Western Washington University, achieved National Board Teaching Certification in 2007 and has been the recipient of the Radioshack National Teaching Award and the Golden Apple Outstanding Educator Award.  After 12 years at RHS, Kate chose to serve on the planning team to help create a new STEM school in Lake Washington School District. She worked with a team of 9 other teachers to formulate the vision for the Tesla STEM High School and has been teaching there ever since. She created an integrated STEM signature lab that incorporates problem based learning, authentic research and college level curriculum in a two block program involving Forensic Science and AP Psychology. She is certified to teach the University of Washington Bio 100: Brain and Addiction curriculum that is embedded in her STEM signature program. She has also served on numerous advisory boards including the Forensic Science advisory board that meets at the Washington State Patrol Crime lab and the Central Sound Regional Science and Engineering Fair advisory board that meets at Bellevue College. In her spare time, Kate enjoys spending time with her husband Cecil, 3 year old daughter Paige and 16 month old son Cohen. She also loves hiking and recently completed a successful summit of Mt. Rainier in July 2015.


Mike-Town-_-Allen-Distinguished-Educators-(ADE)-Award-Finalist.jpgMike Town has taught Science and Engineering courses for 27 years at Redmond High School and 4 years at Tesla STEM High School in Redmond Washington. In 2010-2011 he served as an Einstein Fellow working on STEM education policy issues for the National Science Board which provides oversight to the National Science Foundation. On his return to Redmond he was instrumental in the formation of Tesla STEM High School, a public lottery based, High School and the development of a 7 million dollar environmental education center. Currently he teaches AP Environmental Science, Environmental Engineering and Sustainable Design and the University of Washington Science of Climate Change courses. 

For the past 4 years he has been a member of the Teacher Advisory Council for the National Academies of Science. He has served on Steering Committees for the National Academies report on Climate Change Education in Formal Settings, and the National Academies of Engineering report on STEM Integration in K-12 Education. He has chaired two other National Academies reports and convocations: STEM Learning Is Everywhere: Engaging Schools and Empowering Teachers to Integrate Formal, Informal, and After-School Education to Enhance Teaching and Learning in Grades K-8 and the Exploring Opportunities for STEM Teacher Leadership convocations. 

Mike has been awarded the NEA Foundation Green Prize, Amgen Science Teaching Award, Presidential Innovation Award and the Siemens Outstanding Educator Award for having the highest STEM AP scores in the state. Mike and his wife Meg, a middle school science teacher, enjoy hiking and biking and live in a carbon neutral house which was featured in Governor Inslee’s book Apollo’s Fire. In this free time Mike works on preserving public land and was instrumental in the passage by Congress of the Wild Sky Wilderness Act which preserved over 106,000 acres in Washington State in 2008.


Melissa-Wrenchey-_-Allen-Distinguished-Educators-(ADE)-Award-Finalist.jpgMelissa Wrenchey graduated with a Masters in English and started teaching Language Arts.  She took a job with the US Library Program division of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She installed computers and trained librarians as part of the mission to deliver free and public access to communities for five years travelling throughout the United States. In 2004 Melissa went back to the classroom facilitating technology education for students and staff.   Her current position is with a STEAM inquiry based learning high school.  This environment fosters opportunities for Melissa to explore programming, electronics and computer science applications for students throughout the high school.  She is a current STEM Fellow for the Washington Alliance for Better Schools. Her passion is creating opportunities for underserved communities to learn about STEM and pursue learning in those fields.  She oversees after school mentor programs for girls to program with Kinects, Makey Makeys and Arduinos.   She also assists another group of students running Saturday workshops on STEM project based learning. Community partnerships include Microsoft TEALS and Girls Who Code, to invigorate her teaching and bring in industry professional standards to the classroom.  Melissa has continued to deliver technology content through conferences like Northwest Council for Computer Educators, Society for International Technology Education and facilitating trainers as a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert.  Melissa is one of the founding members of a game design collective, Creative Juggernaut, whose goal is managing and publishing intellectual properties in mobile, print and game play.

Meet the other finalists for the $25,000 Allen Distinguished Educators Award.

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