ATHENS, Ala. — Athens City Schools celebrates one of its teachers with a top honor! Athens Renaissance School STEAM Lab Specialist, Mrs. Taylor Whisenant, was awarded the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) and Challenger Center 2023 Trailblazing STEM Educator Award.
"Super-honored, So I knew I was nominated, but I really was really surprised to win, actually," Whisenant said.
'Trailblazing STEM Educator Award' recipient said when she started working at Athens Renaissance last school year, they didn't really have a robotics program. "I started eight teams in one year covering kindergarten through 12th grade, and then this year that has grown to 14 teams and I've been able to start programs in other parts of our school district that didn't exist before," she explained.
This award recognizes K-12 educators for their Science, Technology, Engineering and Math contributions to the classroom. "It just means a lot to me, though, because I feel like it validates all the time and effort I've put in, especially just for my whole professional career and even my personal life beyond that," Whisenant said.
The award also celebrates educators who inspire the next generation of innovators and makers. Tucker Lynn is one student who is included in that next-generation number. "It's been a great experience. I've really enjoyed this year. I've gotten into the design aspect, of building this robot. I was actually able to design this claw and help build some other pieces of it," Lynn stated.
Whisenant will be recognized at the 2023 AIAA Awards Gala on May 18. This influential and inspiring aerospace event will be held in Washington, D.C., at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. As a Trailblazing STEM Educator, Whisenant will receive a $5,000 cash award along with a $5,000 award for the school.
Whisenant said this is how she plans to utilize her $5,000 award. "I get $5,000 personally, which already is basically earmarked for all this traveling I'll be doing through the year to go to other first events and volunteer," she said. As far as how the school will utilize their $5,000 award,"...we're still working out what it'll be used for exactly, but probably will be used to continue to develop our steam studios program in which our students have opportunities to participate in studios like culinary science, graphic design, digital communications and fine arts in addition to robotics, and just right now, we're developing those spaces and programs and just outfitting them and make them something the students can be really proud of and create," said Whisenant.
She will even have the opportunity to attend a future space launch! The Trailblazing STEM Award celebrates educators who inspire the next generation of innovators and makers. Whisenant has been a member of the Athens Renaissance team since August 2021 where she has taken her passion for STEM and robotics to develop over 14 FIRST Robotics teams. She is also the program delivery partner for FIRST® LEGO® League.