Wagga teacher and mum of nine Jenny Stephens has been recognised for her efforts to share her passion for science with her students.
She has been named Rural Teacher of the Year at the Young Scientist Awards, the first person to win that particular award.
Organised by the Science Teachers Association of NSW, the awards were handed out a ceremony at the University of Wollongong. The category for rural prizes was developed to encourage STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) research by country students and reward the teachers who help them.
Now a teacher at Kildare Catholic College, Mrs Stephens was at the Wagga MET campus when nominated.
The win will see Mrs Stephens heading to the USA, where she will help chaperone young rural NSW students who are attending the International Science and Engineering Fair, which will be held in May 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
“It’s very exciting,” Mrs Stephens said.
“I couldn’t believe it when the announcement was made. Gobsmacked is probably the best description.”
Mrs Stephens said she had “never been off the east coast of Australia”, but was particularly excited because the trip would allow her to see her sister, who currently lives in Iowa.
There will be a week of touring in addition to attending the science fair, and Mrs Stephens will have an opportunity to learn more from her American counterparts about helping students prepare their projects.
“I will be mentored on how to give students feedback on how to get their projects international-ready,” she said.
Mrs Stephens has praised her former students at MET campus for their dedicated in researching and creating projects for the Young Scientists Awards’ fairs.
“They were genuinely interested in science,” she said.
Mrs Stephens teaches at high school, but she believes it is never too early to start encouraging children’s interest in science.
She said the awards recognised the projects created by children as young as kindergarteners, and there were lots of age-appropriate activities which these budding scientists could undertake.
For example, the humble “volcano” demonstration, which uses baking soda and vinegar, could be used to teach children about chemical reactions by asking them to use different vinegars.