Polk Middle’s Rhinehart chosen as 2023 Burroughs Wellcome Fund Career Award for STEM Teachers winner

Polk County Middle School science teacher Leslie Rhinehart has been selected by Burroughs Wellcome Fund as one of four statewide recipients of the 2023 Career Award for STEM Teachers.

The Career Award for STEM Teachers (CAST) recognizes outstanding STEM teachers in North Carolina public primary and secondary schools and provides $175,000 over five years. Applications are open to North Carolina teachers who have an outstanding performance record in educating children, demonstrate a solid knowledge of STEM content and have shown exceptional leadership in their classrooms, schools and communities.

Alfred Mays, BWF’s Chief Diversity Officer and Strategist in Diversity and Education, surprised Rhinehart on Wednesday afternoon with a visit to her classroom at Polk County Middle to announce her selection. He spoke to a group of seventh-grade students about the award and the application process in which Rhinehart and other Polk County Schools officials participated.

“Receiving this award will mean so much to my students and school,” Rhinehart said. “The funding associated with this award will allow me to bring in equipment and hands-on opportunities for my students to explore all aspects of the STEAM program. The award will also be shared with my colleagues to allow them to attend professional development opportunities to better their craft and bring even more hands-on activities into their already-active classrooms.

“This award means a great deal to me and to my students and school system, and I am so very thankful to Alfred Mays and the Burroughs Wellcome STEM Award committee.”

“STEM teacher leadership is critical for shaping the next generation of innovators, problem-solvers and changemakers,” Mays said. “Through their passion, guidance and expertise, STEM teachers have the power to inspire and empower students to tackle some of the world’s most pressing challenges and create a better future for all.”

The award presents opportunities for professional development and collaboration with other master science and/or mathematics teachers who will help to ensure their success as teachers and their satisfaction with the field of teaching. CAST offers public schools and school districts the opportunity to fully develop and empower teachers as leaders in the field.

Also chosen as recipients of the 2023 Career Award for STEM Teachers were:

  • Benjamin Davis, Robbinsville High School | Graham County Schools
  • Andrea Gladden, East Burke Middle School | Burke County Public Schools
  • Thomas Savage, Henderson County Early College | Henderson County Public Schools

“We are so proud of Mrs. Rhinehart for being named a recipient of the 2023 Burroughs Wellcome Fund Career Award for STEM Teachers,” said Polk County Middle Principal Todd Murphy. “This grant will allow Mrs. Rhinehart to continue to provide the best educational experience possible for the students of Polk County Middle School. Through the new resources this grant will provide, our students will experience STEM education like never before.

“Mrs. Rhinehart is to be commended for her willingness to go above and beyond to meet the needs of our students.”

Based in Research Triangle Park, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund is an independent private foundation. Its mission is to serve and strengthen society by nurturing a diverse group of leaders in biomedical sciences to improve human health through education and powering discovery in frontiers of greatest need.

“We could not be more proud of and excited for Leslie Rhinehart,” said Polk County Schools Superintendent Aaron Greene. “Mrs. Rhinehart is one of the most talented science and STEM teachers I know. This award will afford her the resources and ability to positively impact STEM education in Polk County for many more students for years to come.

“Polk County Schools congratulates her and offers our sincere appreciation to the Burroughs Wellcome Fund for supporting educators like Mrs. Rhinehart.”

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