GeekWire Awards 2021: Meet the remarkable STEM educators who are inspiring next-gen geeks

STEM Educators of the Year for 2021, from left to right: Lauren Bricker, Cathi Rodgveller, and Kim Williams.

Over the years, GeekWire has highlighted so many of the tireless folks who are nurturing the next generation of geeks. And this year we’re excited to announce a new award to recognize a select group of the Pacific Northwest’s top teachers.

This inaugural cohort is an impressive collection of educators who are inspiring young minds to achieve more in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math. They come from universities, public schools and nonprofits, and are working with kids from elementary school into college and supporting fellow teachers as well.

We invite you to meet our STEM Educators of the Year for 2021, presented by DreamBox Learning, as part of our 2021 GeekWire Awards celebration:

Lauren Bricker, Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering, University of Washington

Lauren Bricker of the University of Washington’s Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering. (Stephen Spencer Photo)

If Pacific Northwest computer science education was a solar system, Lauren Bricker could arguable play the role of the sun. Her efforts to reach students from K-12 to college have shone a light into far-reaching and diverse stretches of the educational system.

For the past four years, Bricker has held a teaching-faculty position at the University of Washington’s Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering. She is also president of the Puget Sound Computer Science Teachers Association.

In her role at the Allen School, Bricker is a crucial liaison between the computer science faculty and K-12 education statewide. That has included:

  • Serving as the contact for K-12 computer science teachers, connecting them to resources, providing guidance on curriculum and annually visiting high school classes.
  • Core contributor to the College of Engineering’s State Academic RedShirt (STARS) program, which serves low-income, first-generation and underserved students.
  • Faculty member for a program called “Startup!” that helps in-coming students adjust to the rigor of college while expanding their peer-support network.
  • Organizing a series of “community conversations” for computer science students of color, which led to students creating a Minorities in Tech affinity group in the Allen School.

In addition to her efforts at the UW, Bricker has worked with to develop curriculum and conduct professional-development training for educators, and she lobbied the state legislature in favor of a bill requiring every public high school to provide computer science education. She taught computer science for a decade at Seattle’s elite Lakeside High School.

“Lauren approaches all of her work through a lens of diversity, equity and inclusion,” said the UW colleague who nominated her for this GeekWire award. “To her, access to computing courses is but the starting point, where the real goal is for everyone, particularly those who never saw themselves as computer scientists to thrive.”

Cathi Rodgveller, CEO and founder of IGNITE Worldwide

Cathi Rodgveller, CEO and founder of IGNITE Worldwide. (IGNITE Photo)

In the throes of a global pandemic when many people are just trying to keep the wheels on, Cathi Rodgveller is expanding the reach of her program to excite girls about STEM.

More than 20 years ago, Rodgveller created IGNITE, an initiative within the Seattle Public Schools that introduced girls to women working in technology roles. The program has grown dramatically, relaunching as its own nonprofit in 2016 and now called IGNITE Worldwide. The organization serves 60 U.S. school districts and has chapters in more than 40 countries. Participating schools are majority BlPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) on average and approximately half of students are low-income.

IGNITE has racked up numerous accolades, including honors from the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education and the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology.

Beyond all of the data and awards, what really resonates are the responses from the girls themselves.

IGNITE continued offering its outreach programs over the past year through virtual meetups between professional women and girls in middle and high school. That included racially and ethnically diverse panels from Boeing, Amazon, Microsoft, Disney, Tesla and other companies and universities.

“This event inspired me because it was really cool to see so many women and especially women of different ethnicity talking about career opportunities and their journeys. Thank you so much for sharing, it was super cool and inspiring!” wrote an eighth-grade girl who attended a virtual session with Boeing engineers.

“I saw a different side of STEM. The industry is changing everyday and there are more opportunities,” said a 12th-grade girl after a panel with engineers from Seattle’s Moz.

One of her 10th-grade peers responded: “Today’s event inspired me as I now feel more confident about wanting a career in STEM. This event helped encourage me to follow my dreams.”

IGNITE serves approximately 10,000 girls a year, and is testing a pilot project with girls in fourth and fifth grades.

Kim Williams, science department head, science club faculty advisor at Cougar Mountain Middle School

Kim Williams, science teacher, science club faculty advisor, and head of the Science Department at Cougar Mountain Middle School. (Cougar Mountain Photo)

There are a lot of good teachers, and some who are great. But not many can clear the bar of exceptional, the kind of educator who can spark curiosity in kids, whatever their academic strengths and interests. Kim Williams is one of those few.

Williams is a science teacher, science club faculty advisor, and head of the Science Department at Cougar Mountain Middle School. The school is located in a town west of Mount Rainier where half of the 600 students are low income.

Williams has been teaching middle school kids for about 14 years and before that taught science through the YMCA. Her career has focused on schools with fewer resources, but she has worked to bring technology into the classroom, create an inclusive environment and provide opportunities that students might not have otherwise had — including interactions with snakes, mice and other class pets.

Over the years, Williams has established herself as a leader among teachers, integrating technology into her classroom and encouraging others to do the same. When the COVID-19 pandemic last year forced educators to provide virtual instruction, Williams is credited for helping her colleagues adopt new technologies and transition to remote classrooms.

Williams was nominated for this GeekWire Award by a fellow educator who raved that she “has her finger on the pulse of what her middle schoolers find interesting and is so relatable that even the most challenging of students end up finding her classes to be the favorite.”

Education Edtech Geekwire awards 2021 Ignite worldwide Paul allen school of computer science and engineering Stem education