Amy Baldwin, Gateway to Technology teacher at Oak Brook Middle School, was named as South Carolina STEM Educator of the Year. The award was announced by the SC Coalition for Mathematics & Science during STEM Day at the Capitol on March 17.
Over the last decade STEM initiatives have developed a growing support from the state legislature and SC Department of Education, says Kim Christ, Director of Technology and Cybersecurity Initiatives at the SC Council of Competitiveness. Still, programs statewide lack in diversity, something that Baldwin was largely nominated for.
“This year’s winner, Amy Baldwin, stood out as a leader in STEM education by encouraging diversity and widening the path to help students of all genders, races, and backgrounds find their place in STEM,” said Christ.
When Baldwin first began teaching at OakBrook Middle School as a 7th grade math teacher in 2000, STEM was virtually unheard of. At the time, it resembled more of an industrial technology class and eventually vanished from the school entirely for at least three years, Baldwin said, after the previous instructor of the program retired.
However in 2013, Baldwin was chosen to aid in bringing the program back. She became the only female teacher to lead the Gateway to Technology program with only four other middle schools within the district taking part in similar programs.
“When the opportunity to teach GTT presented itself, I knew I could use it to help students understand real world applications but also to help students see careers they did not know existed,” Baldwin said.
Baldwin says that when the program first started back up again, many students weren't exactly sure of what GTT was so they chose not to join it during course selection and she began noticing that her small classes were also typically male dominated, with some semesters only bringing in only a handful of girls.
In response, Baldwn began writing grants to increase the amount of equipment available to students and she decided to launch a series of STEM days hosted at Oakbrook Elementary. The hope was that more children would become familiar with STEM at an earlier age.
A Girl Powered event hosted by Baldwin, in the fall of 2019, allowed nearly 60 female students from 4th- 8th grade to participate in STEM challenges alongside females working in STEM fields throughout the lowcountry.
This series of efforts have sparked such a large interest in GTT classes that Baldwin says additional GTT teachers have been hired and that this school year alone has brought the largest number of girls enrolled since she started teaching.
“Since our expansion, we have seen a large increase in females as well as minority students in our classes,” Baldwin said.
Despite the rise of efforts such as Baldwin's across the state to curate diversity and interest in STEM education, there remains a disparity of both. Christ says that it is imperative that there is an increase in diversity across STEM careers, classrooms, and curriculum.
“Like most other areas of the country, we fall behind in inclusion of women and black and brown professionals in STEM fields,” Christ said.
This year with Covid-19, Baldwin has been teaching three periods of virtual academy and three periods of in-person students.
“I am hard on myself because I want to give the best to all my students. My team reminds me of all I am doing for the students,” Baldwin said. “This award is a shout-out to all the students who came through my door and helped ignite my passion as I helped them find theirs.”