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RHS teacher awarded two STEM fellowships

When Russellville High School science teacher Lorraine Perez applied for two prestigious academic opportunities at a conference in February, she really had no expectations that she would be accepted for either program.
But on Feb. 19, Perez received word that not only had she been accepted to the state-wide Genetic Technologies for Alabama Classrooms (GTAC) teacher academy but she had also been selected as one of 50 teachers from across the nation to participate in the Siemens STEM Institute fellowship, which is designed to bring teachers to the cutting edge of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education.
Perez has been an educator with the Russellville City School System for 16 years, 14 of which have been spent as the chairperson of the science department where she currently teaches anatomy and physiology, zoology and biology as well as college biology through Northwest-Shoals Community College.
All of this experience has allowed Perez to see first-hand the importance of STEM-related fields and how vital it is to offer fresh perspectives and teaching methods in these ever-evolving subject areas.
“[Through these fellowships] I will be able to establish a network of STEM educators across the nation and in Alabama that I will be able to gain invaluable expertise from,” she said.
“My students will benefit greatly from the addition of biotechnology that I will be able to incorporate into the classroom.”
Perez said even though she initially thought it was a long shot, she originally applied for both programs because she knew the things she could learn through her participation would be beneficial to her students back at RHS.
“These fellowships will allow me to expand my knowledge on STEM topics and will afford me the opportunity to offer a brand new course in genetics at RHS with lab materials that will enrich the curriculum,” Perez said.
“I hope to incorporate all of the new labs I will bring back from the GTAC fellowship.”
The GTAC fellowship will be a two-week long academy for select Alabama teachers during the month of June, which makes it the first of the two events Perez will attend this summer.
The event is held at the HudsonAlpha biotechnology research center in Huntsville.
Participants interact with researchers who are studying genetic influences in cancer, neurological disorders and infectious diseases, and tour biotechnology companies dedicated to improving diagnosis and treatment of human disease.
“Educators who participate in the program will bring back a large a collection of materials and resources related to genetics and biotechnology,” she said. “The genetic materials I bring back will greatly benefit students in the new genetics course we are offering next year.”
After completing the GTAC academy, Perez will participate in the Siemens STEM Institute fellowship professional development experience August 4-9 at the world headquarters of Discovery Communications, located outside of Washington D.C.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to collaborate with other teachers across the nation that teach STEM in the classroom,” Perez said.
“With the Next Generation Science Standards that were just released, there is a lot of emphasis on STEM in the classroom. This will give me the opportunity to learn how to incorporate more STEM into my curriculum and to share what I have learned with my department.”
Perez said she was excited for these professional opportunities and the chance to help her students excel with the new information she is given.
“Fostering STEM education is essential in today’s classroom,” she said. “I feel that teachers today must embrace STEM education as a means of developing college ready graduates that will one day rule the technological work force.”