Meet the 2016 Class of Allen Distinguished Educators

By Jerry Nguyen, Allen Awardee Program Officer at Vulcan Inc.
March 8, 2016

The 2016 Allen Distinguished Educators Awards Bestowed on Seven Teachers/Teams  
Paul G. Allen Encourages Excellence in Classroom Innovation with $25,000 Award 

In the quest to ignite innovation in education, the Allen Distinguished Educators (ADE) program has announced its 2016 cohort of teachers who will receive a $25,000 award for pioneering work in education. The ADE award generated 81 initial applications representing 31 states. From 16 finalists, seven winning projects were chosen.

“A national search for innovation in education revealed a significant appetite for strategies that give students more ownership over their learning,” said Dave Ferrero, Senior Program Officer for Education at Vulcan Inc., a Paul G. Allen company. “We believe that recognizing and supporting innovative teachers and their programs will create hands-on, real-world opportunities for students that are replicable models of success.”

The ADE program was established in 2014 with an inaugural class of seven ADEs who continue to support the program as ambassadors, sharing their experience to inspire experiential learning in classrooms across the country. Founded by Seattle-based philanthropist Paul G. Allen, the program focuses on the integration of computer science, engineering and entrepreneurship into engaging, student-led learning. This type of curriculum can help students build skills, habits and dispositions that can transform their lives and lead them to success in the 21st century. 

At a SXSWedu reception on March 8, 2016, awards were given to the following teachers and teaching teams: Bartlo and Nohner believe in the power of encouragement. Rather than lecturing students on courses and assigning exercises, they facilitate student access to the information they need to complete projects through online videos and artifacts. Progress is made at the student’s pace, and is comparable to the type of process-based learning found in a computer programming lab. Students develop apps, which have been put to use by local businesses, and games, which they have used to enter national competitions.

“It takes support from a tremendous variety of people to create a successful program and this award acknowledges all of that effort,” said Bartlo. “Energizing the community is the key to building and supporting more programs. We hope that we can use the goodwill this award generates to create more opportunities for all students to engage in computer science.” Bryant, O’Neill and White teach engineering through the lens of art and social impact. By integrating engineering throughout grades k-11, these teachers have created a community of student engineers that are helping the neighborhoods around them. One group of students is currently designing and constructing a backyard playhouse to auction off at their community design showcase. A local charity will be selected to receive the proceeds through a voting process designed and managed by the older students.
“This award emboldens us to instigate additional innovative initiatives and provides validation in the eyes of our administrators, students and the community,” said Bryant. “As ADEs, we are also joining a national network of educators and like-minded individuals, which along with possible new partners will provide our students amazing opportunities to reach beyond their humble beginnings.” Dempsey and Rambach are engineering and computer science evangelists at their school, integrating these disciplines across multiple subjects. In their own science class, they have engaged students with engineering through lessons in chemistry, convection and electricity. In one example of hands-on, student-led learning, students discover the principles of convection when asked to design and build hot air balloons and determine which designs flew the highest and why.

“Our program allows students to learn science by designing, creating, failing, tinkering and most importantly playing in order to generate solutions,” said Rambach. “Winning the award will bring new relationships, ideas and experiences that we will learn from as we continue to prototype and improve our own classrooms for our students.” When DuPriest and Winey teach engineering, lights go on across the globe. As part of their class, students design, manufacture and, with the help of a non-profit partner, ship low-energy lights to villages in developing countries. When engineering is conveyed through an impact lens, their students directly improve living conditions overseas.

“Students, educators and community members feel empowered and confident when they use their talents to provide safe, sustainable light for others,” said DuPriest. “We are excited about the potential of this award to make these opportunities available for more students worldwide to see themselves as engineers, computer scientists, problem solvers and contributing global citizens.”
  • Ashley Greenway, 1st grade: Computer Science, Engineering & Entrepreneurship Program, Elm Street Elementary, Rome, GA.
“Sugar Kids Beauty Scrub” might sound more like a solution to a complexion problem than a way to teach engineering and entrepreneurship. Greenway engages her first graders in an underserved area to create and manage this business by integrating aspects of entrepreneurship and engineering. She takes her students through the entire business model, from product design to market analysis and product research to development, budgeting and promotion. Based on the enthusiastic response, her model is being adopted in other classes across throughout the elementary school.

“Most of my students have not seen much of the world beyond their neighborhood, but for these six-year-olds, my involvement in STEM, and in winning this award, brings the world into my classroom,” said Greenway. “My gratitude is not for myself, but for my students.”
  • Alyson Nelson, grades 11-12: Engineering Program, Nikola Tesla STEM High School, Redmond, WA.
Nelson’s students are bringing their personal passions to her biomedical engineering classes and solving major issues in the world. For example, one class designed a new type of prosthetics that will allow users to play guitar or participate in high-intensity sports like skateboarding and skiing. Nelson also partners with a sociology teacher to engage her students in researching causes of pandemic infections and to seek ways to care and cure patients.

“Many of these students decide to pursue careers in engineering or the medical field as a result of their experiences in my program,” said Nelson. “This award provides me an outlet to share what I do with other teachers around the country who may be unsure about how to incorporate engineering into their courses.”
  • Jodie Woodruff, grades 9 -12: Entrepreneurship Program, The Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center, Providence, RI.
Woodruff runs a unique entrepreneurship program to teach high school students in an underserved area to create and run their own community businesses. They must identify a market opportunity, develop and pitch a business plan to potential investors, secure seed funding, manage a budget, market their product and even rent office space. They run their businesses out of a purpose-built collaboration space on the school’s campus. Example businesses include a Kickstarter campaign consultancy and a graphic design and printing service for local Hispanic-owned small businesses.

“Our program has created an environment and culture to engage underserved students to recognize and seize opportunity in the world around them within the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship,” said Woodruff. “The ADE award will deepen our work and ensure more time and resources to create, network, and learn from leaders in the field.”

To see more about each winner’s project and the resources available through the ADE program, visit the ADE website.

About Vulcan, Inc.

Vulcan Inc. creates and advances a variety of world-class endeavors and high-impact initiatives that change and improve the way people live, learn, do business and experience the world. Founded in 1986 by investor and philanthropist Paul G. Allen, Vulcan oversees various business and charitable projects including real estate holdings, investments in dozens of companies, including the Seattle Seahawks NFL, Seattle Sounders FC Major League Soccer, and Portland Trail Blazers NBA franchises, First & Goal Inc., the Seattle Cinerama theatre, Experience Music Project, the Science Fiction Museum & Hall of Fame, the Allen Institute for Brain Science, the Allen Institute for Cell Science and The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. For more information, visit

Sign in to comment or ask questions.
New User? Please create an account to comment
Already have an account? Please sign In

Related Articles