Two women sit at a desk, looking down at papers

Kourtney Taylor (right), an educator from Lincoln County, was recently selected to take part in a professional development program in hopes of encouraging middle school students to learn about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education. Submitted photo

Selected to take part in a professional development program, Kourtney Taylor, an educator from Stanford in Lincoln County, said she hopes her achievement will encourage students within her district to get excited about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education.

Taylor was one of nine middle school science teachers chosen from eight states by the National Stem Cell Foundation and the Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science to participate in the National STEM Scholar Program.

“I am very excited,” said Taylor, who was teaching at Lincoln County Middle School when she was selected for the program. “Their goal is to get kids excited in middle school, so this grant is for those teachers to help implement these challenge projects into their classroom.”

The program is an advanced training program with national network building and project support for middle school science teachers nationwide. The scholar program selects educators each year from a national pool of applicants based solely on their “big idea” challenge project submissions. These ideas are projects that the applicant would implement in their classroom if they were selected to receive the funding.

“Initially, I was going to be teaching 8th-grade science, and the standards within that are topics along the lines of ecosystems, animal behaviors, evolution and genetics,” said Taylor. “It just so happened that I became certified in artificial intelligence and did some research on Ozobots that you can program to mimic animal behavior.”

The scholar program said the selected educators, like Taylor, presented ideas that showed maximum educational impact within middle school classrooms, where they say research shows lifelong STEM career decisions are being made.

Taylor said she planned to use the money to purchase robots to teach students how to identify which type of animal it was based on the robot’s programmed behavior. For example, if all the robot did was dance and it was an insect, the students would eventually figure out it was a bee, leading into conversations about the evolutionary background, genetics and the human impacts they may have on their ecosystems.

“This project tied most everything in those standards into one big collaborative project,” said Taylor.

During the 2024-2025 school year, Taylor will be teaching freshmen at Casey County High School, which requires her to change her “big idea.” She said she plans to use her new position to create an afterschool program to encourage involvement and engagement in STEM courses.

“We had the idea of a STEM outreach program. We’re going to take 4th-through-8th graders and encourage them to learn about what STEM has to offer.,” she said. “The freshman in my classes will lead the group, and they will be the ones teaching and explaining these different concepts.”

Taylor said she will receive about $2,000 from the program to buy supplies to make these concepts a reality in her school.

“This will be implemented into this upcoming school year, and this program will be something that can go on for years and years to come,” said Taylor. “We will be able to reach so many different students, build on this idea, and start flourishing. We got a lot of cool toys coming in, and I am excited.”

As the program enters its ninth year, middle schools from 35 states are represented by 90 National STEM Scholars. Ninety-one percent of teachers work in public schools, 41% in schools with mid-to-high levels of poverty and 39% in areas with fewer than 15,000 residents.

As part of the program, STEM Scholars are expected to magnify their effect over several classrooms and years by sharing their lessons gained with colleagues in their home schools, districts or states.

More than 146,000 middle school students in the United States will have benefited directly or indirectly from National STEM Scholars by June 2025.

The 2024 National STEM Scholar class:

  • Katie Duff, Manhattan, Ill. – Manhattan Junior High School.
  • Heather Febres, Orlando, Fla. – Pershing K-8 School.
  • Angela Kopp, Overland Park, Kan. – Holy Cross Catholic School.
  • Bridget McDonald, Katy, Texas – Beckendorff Junior High School.
  • Sarah Nelson Wiese, Omaha, Neb. – Bryan Middle School.
  • Samantha Poll, Hampden, Maine – Samuel L. Wagner Middle School.
  • Nicole Slowik, Vestavia Hills, Ala. – Liberty Park Middle School.
  • Kourtney Taylor, Stanford, Ky. – Lincoln County Middle School.
  • Eliza Vela, San Antonio, Texas – Longfellow Middle School.