Educator Awards

Wyoming Department of Education > For Teachers > Recognition > Educator Awards

WDE Educator Awards:

Milken Educator Awards

The Milken Educator Awards alternate yearly between elementary and secondary educators. Unlike most teacher recognition programs, the Milken Educator Award is completely unique: Educators cannot apply for this recognition and do not even know they are under consideration. Candidates are sourced through a confidential selection process and then are reviewed by Blue Ribbon Panels appointed by state departments of education. Those most exceptional are recommended for the Award, with final approval by the Milken Family Foundation.

For more information about the Milken Educator Awards,  visit or call MFF at (310) 570-4772.

2019 – Brian Cox, Cheyenne

Principal Brian Cox always puts students first at Johnson Junior High School in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Using the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) framework, which Cox researched, advocated for and implemented at Johnson, students focus not only on taking tests but on leadership skills. AVID helps Cox and his staff guide students who need extra support toward academic success. When Cox talks with students, he asks them how they picture their lives in 20 years—home, job, family—and then works backward to help them connect those dreams to studying hard and getting good grades. Cox often reminds teachers that students are not little adults, and that teaching the whole child means understanding not just what is happening, but why. When a student acted out at school, Cox worked to gain the student’s trust and learned that the child felt unsafe at home after someone pushed in the family’s front door. Cox bought a new door from the lumber yard, went to the house and installed it himself.

Cox leads a staff of 100, challenging Johnson’s educators daily to consider what they can do to make a positive impact on the seventh- and eighth-graders they teach. Cox personalizes professional development for each teacher, seeking resources to address the specific skills and challenges they want to address. A former science teacher and assistant principal, Cox pores over student data. Convinced that cell phones at school have a negative effect on student learning, he brought students, families and the community together, made his case, and led the effort to remove them from campus. Cox sits on the board of the Wyoming Association of Secondary School Principals and has lobbied Congress for Title I funding in Washington, D.C. He has mentored many new principals and worked with the Laramie and Uinta County school districts to develop a comparative salary schedule matrix for rural schools.

Brian Cox is awarded a $25,000 from the Milken Family Foundation
Brian Cox is presented a check for $25,000

Many of Johnson’s students experience challenges at home, just as Cox did growing up. Empathy is a core value for Cox: When a racially charged incident happened at another middle school in the district, Cox stepped up to organize the district’s first youth equality symposium, a weeklong event that led to several ongoing tolerance and diversity initiatives. An avid runner who has done several 100+-mile ultra-marathons, Cox sits on the board of the local Boys & Girls Club and raises money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. He has helped students organize clothing drives for classmates who need winter coats and worked with another student to plan a dance to raise money for the community. Cox has developed anti-bullying programs and added restorative justice to the school’s discipline matrix.

Cox earned a bachelor’s in biology and chemistry in 2002 from the University of Wyoming and a master’s in curriculum and instruction in 2006 from the University of Colorado. He is pursuing a doctorate in educational leadership.

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2018 – Chris Bessonette, Jackson

The dual immersion program at Munger Mountain Elementary School in Jackson, Wyoming, is growing—in large part due to second-grade teacher Chris Bessonette. When the district board of education was deliberating the expansion of the program, they turned to Bessonette as an expert to help guide their decisions. Bessonette, an English-language teacher paired with a Spanish-language partner, serves on the school’s ELA committee, dual immersion leadership committee and building leadership team, and he has participated in research studies to enhance the district’s dual immersion programming. Bessonette provided the board with data and input to show that the dual immersion program has been a positive option for all learners. In the fall of 2018, the district opened the first dual immersion elementary school in the state.

Chris Bessonette is awarded a $25,000 from the Milken Family Foundation
Chris Bessonette is presented a check for $25,000

Bessonette’s passion for supporting English language learners (ELLs) shines at Munger Mountain Elementary, in both second grade and his former role teaching kindergarten. He focuses on vocabulary development, a skill critical to his dual immersion students’ academic success. During a “maker’s market,” Bessonette’s second-graders created a service, then explain why they chose it and who would be interested in it. The business unit introduced concepts like marketing, advertising, and supply and demand, in addition to helping them develop the language needed to describe their work. Bessonette led a collaborative effort with the University of Wyoming to pilot a new vocabulary initiative across the district’s second-grade dual-immersion classes, bringing together a cohort of educators across two buildings. His students are thriving: On state assessments, they showed 20% growth from winter to spring. When he taught kindergarten, 85% of his students were reading on grade level by the end of the year.

Known for his contagious positive attitude, Bessonette mentors teaching partners, leads professional development, participates in a professional learning community with other second-grade dual immersion educators, and helps build units for language and math at the district level. He and another teacher participated in a panel discussion on improving students’ vocabulary with a professor from a local university. He has presented at a state ELL conference in Jackson Hole and led sessions for 400 teachers at a district conference. Bessonette understands the challenges of his immigrant students’ families and advocates for them relentlessly, tutoring, attending soccer games and concerts, learning Spanish to improve his ability to communicate, and connecting families with community resources. In dual immersion, students learn leadership skills, grit, perseverance and the importance of supporting each other alongside academics. Bessonette works hard to embed sociocultural competence in every lesson.

Bessonette earned a bachelor’s in elementary education from Graceland University in 1998 and a master’s in curriculum and instruction from the University of Wyoming in 2011.

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2017 – Shannon Hill, Thermopolis

It was the surprise of a lifetime, when Shannon Hill was presented with a prestigious Milken Educator Award by Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow and Milken Family Foundation Senior Program Administrator Greg Gallagher.  Hill is Thermopolis Middle School’s seventh- and eight-grade Health and Physical Education teacher. Hill’s dedication to her students is one of the many reasons that Hill was selected for this award.

Hill stated after learning that she had earned the Milken Educator Award, “I am completely humbled and overwhelmed. I was not expecting it at all and I just can’t wrap my head around it right now. I absolutely love what I do and I show up every day loving what I do, not thinking about awards, not working towards anything specific, just teaching the kids. I love the kids that I work with every day.

Milken Educators are selected in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish. In addition to the $25,000 prize and public recognition, Hill’s honor includes membership in the National Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,700 top teachers, principals and specialists dedicated to strengthening education.

Shannon Hill is presented a check for $25,000.

Shannon Hill believes and demonstrates that physical health improves classroom performance. But kids will tell you they’re just having fun. In student climate surveys, they have rated her class as their second favorite part of school for two years in a row. And that’s no surprise. They enjoy 45 minutes of adventure every day as they swim, hike, bike, canoe, and even try archery.

Hill redesigned the Physical Education classes to promote safety and improve physical and mental health. She has presented its success during state and national conferences, including the National School Board Conference in March 2017. As students have become more active, math and reading scores at Thermopolis Middle School have steadily climbed. Five out of nine core areas at the school ranked top 10% in the state, and administrators credit this to the positive culture Hill has helped create.

Her PE model teaches kids skills they can use for a lifetime and maximizes various activities available in small towns that get students outside and on the go. Hill incorporates cross-curricular concepts, supporting math and literacy standards, within her physical education and health classes. Hill arranged to purchase 40 bikes so students could ride during class. Besides promoting health and fitness, the bike rides serve other educational purposes as well. The students bike to the grocery store (1 mile each way) and purchase fresh foods. The next day they learn how to cook healthy meals in class and use their math skills to calculate nutrition values. For mental stability, Hill engages students through lessons and surveys to improve self-perception and body image, stand up to peer pressure and avoid the pitfalls of drugs and alcohol. As an end-of-year treat for 8th graders, Hill sponsors an overnight camping trip. The trip has to be earned and students must keep their behavior in check to not jeopardize their standing.

Hill mentors new teachers on building strong student relationships and effective classroom management, and partakes in school duties beyond the classroom. She is the student-council advisor and an active member of the Bobcat Booster club raising funds for school activities. Hill also supports the high school as the head varsity girls’ volleyball coach, and hosts open gyms for other athletes to work out during practice. Active and visible throughout Hot Springs County, Hill has also changed the community. She coordinates the Ready, Set, Run program to get kids running and the annual Running with the Buffalo race, while her PE methods have extended to the high school. She hosts Challenge Days to teach at-risk students how to self-reflect and make better choices, and volunteers with students and community members to deliver Meals on Wheels on Sundays.

Hill earned her Bachelor of Arts in Health and Human Performance/Exercise Science in 2009 and her Master of Education in 2012, both from the University of Montana.

More information about Hill, plus links to photos and a video from today’s assembly, can be found on the Milken Educator Awards website at

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K-12 Digital Learning Awards

The K-12 Digital Learning Innovations Awards were created to honor leaders and educators to create cultures of innovation and forward-thinking through effective uses of digital, 21st century technologies to engage students while empowering them in owning their learning. 

Digital Learning Awards

The Digital Learning Innovations Award is an acknowledgement of educators utilizing new and innovative ways to incorporate digital learning into their work. Please consider nominating outstanding candidates for one of the following four categories:

  • Student Voices (Students and leaders working together)
  • Education Leader (School Level including School Leaders)
  • District Leader (District Level)
  • Program Leaders (Statewide Level)
Examples for each category

Student Voices (Teachers and Students)
K-12 school or district that is transforming education experiences and how the impact of these projects can be heard through the voices of their students.This category is looking to see how students embrace their own education and help to create or implement the innovation.

Example – The Shoshoni CodeWranglers program (2019 winners) turning students into skilled professionals able to create and innovate. Tools are only as good as the craftsman behind the tools. CodeWranglers is all about making craftsmen and craftswomen for the future. Helping students obtain effective research, engineering, and problem solving skills are trademarks of the CodeWranglers program making it unique and innovative.

Education Leader (School Level including School Leaders)
Example – The 2019 winner, Karla Ludemann, opened up her classes for her students to experience a blend of online and face-to-face experiences. Whether that be in programming, computer hardware, robotics, egaming, or video editing, Karla has opened up opportunities for all of her students. SPED students who sometimes struggle have found a place where they can feel successful in working with technology – whether it is robotics or egaming.

District Leader (District Level)
Example – The 2019 winner, Frankie Medlen, supports personalized learning throughout the district. Frankie also remove barriers along the way, she is flexible to the needs of educators and forward thinking–always helping to propel the district in new directions.

Program Leaders (Statewide Level)
Example -The 2019 winner, Don Day, Jr. from Day Weather, seized an opportunity to develop and support STEAM education by developing a program, “Iter ad Astra” (“A Road to the Stars”) to have junior high science students in Laramie County design, construct, launch, and recover a high altitude balloon system. His project has brought together curricula from various departments within the junior high school as well as community volunteers from various disciplines to engage with students who learn through hands-on development and experimental activities. Together students build, launch, and recover a “flying satellite.”

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2020 Award Winners
Student Voices –  Erika Quick and the Cody Broadcast Journalism Students

The Broadcast Journalism program at Cody High School has been student-led for twenty years. The students are the voice of the school and they inform their student body on what is going on. Their stories often transcend past the student-body and into our community. As their advisor, Ms. Quick pushes them to ask the tough questions. She always warns the students that some stories may lead them into the unknown. It may challenge them to arrive in a place they did not expect. That is what journalism is, the pursuit of what’s true, even if it makes you uncomfortable or doesn’t fit within the walls of your normalcy.  Through COVID the students captured their experiences through a series of photos to try and convey how the pandemic has impacted them.

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Education Leader – Krista Sweckard, Johnson #1

Krista Sweckard PhotoKrista is a prime example of an innovative teacher in all she does in her classes from the elementary school to the high school. She is always striving and searching for effective approaches to help her students learn through engaging lessons and units. Krista has a unique position in her district. She teaches computer science and technology classes at the high school half time and spends the afternoon at an elementary school teaching classes with elementary teachers using lessons she develops to assist teachers to integrate technology in their lessons. In the elementary school she learns about the units or lessons they are teaching and then develops lessons she models and teaches with the classroom teacher to the students. In her high school classes she integrates hands-on activities and designs her lessons beyond the format of most classes. Krista is the most dedicated and innovative teacher committed to changing the classroom to prepare and empower her students and colleagues for the future.

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District Leader – Dr. Joe Heywood, WYVA

Dr. Joe Heywood photoDr. Joe Heywood is the Head of School and K-8 Principal of the Wyoming Virtual Academy (WYVA) for the last 3 years. During this time, he recognized the need to improve the Social-Emotional component for students online and how valuable it is for student’s to feel connected, especially in a virtual setting. To do this he has created a library of virtual field trips for students and has instituted the first online Junior National Honors Society and Student Council for grades 7-8.  He created a series of virtual field trips that can be accessed by students online to bring different parts of Wyoming to them, at home. He has also used videos to create welcome messages to help build a sense of connection. There is usually an educational component as well to these videos and are geared for all students K-12.

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State Leader – SSG David Pulsipher, WY Army National Guard

David Pulsipher PhotoSSG David Pulsipher faced COVID-19 head on by helping to teach several classes for Wyoming High School Equivalency Test (HiSET) Program through Western Wyoming Community College by assisting students that had endured an unprecedented end to their in person classes.  Pulsipher Instructed classes via Zoom on Career Development and Life Skills courses.  The classes reached students in Rock Springs, Big Piney, Bridger Valley, Pinedale, Kemmerer, Green River, and Star Valley. Education is one of the most revered freedoms of every society.  SSG Pulsipher’s ability to overcome and adapt in such a short period as well as assist with one of the most critical aspects of the American way of life is a testament to his professionalism and commitment to the betterment of human potential. 

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State Leader –  SFC Jeffrey Blascyk  , WY Army National Guard

Jeffrey Blascyk PhotoSFC Jeffrey Blascyk took digital learning to a new level by creating a resiliency video series for the Sheridan SCOPE program. In Tongue River he conducted a virtual workout series with an accountability piece to encourage students to work out and maintain a healthy lifestyle. SFC Blascyk also conducted a goal setting video series for multiple English classes in Sheridan High School in conjunction with their reading of the Alchemist to promote realistic goal setting. He did two videos, one on military equipment and the uniform for those who took the ASVAB.  In addition, SFC Blascyk also had a bunch of education centered videos posted on Facebook for the students in the areas of physical fitness, how to apply social distancing, additional military equipment videos and benefits videos.

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2019 Award Winners
Student Voices – Tony Olson, Fremont County School District #24

Tony Olson PhotoTony is the Technology Coordinator and Instructor in Fremont County School District #24. Tony has truly helped transform the digital landscape in Wyoming by starting the Code Wranglers program.  The Shoshoni CodeWranglers program is all about turning students into skilled professionals able to create and innovate. Tools are only as good as the craftsman behind the tools.  

Teaching students to effectively utilize the resources and tools they have access to is essential for maximum productivity and CodeWranglers is all about making craftsmen and craftswomen for the future.  Helping students obtain effective research, engineering, and problem solving skills are trademarks of the CodeWranglers program making it unique and innovative. The program continues to grow and will soon include elementary students. 

Tony was selected for the Student Voices award for his work through allowing student voices to be heard. The Shoshoni Code Wranglers program has given his students an avenue to shine. The Code Wranglers were here with us last year and last night at the Innovations Showcase. Tony supports his students as they present their knowledge in computer science.  You can see and hear the excitement in his students’ voices as they talk about their experiences with learning technology in Tony’s classroom. 

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Education Leader – Karla Ludemann, Weston County School District #7
Karla Ludemann Photo

Karla is a Computer Science and Business Teacher at Upton High School in Weston County School District #7. She has been selected for this award because of her work of opening up her classes for her students to experience a blend of online and face-to-face experiences. Whether that be in programming, computer hardware, robotics, egaming, or video editing, Karla has opened up opportunities for all of her students.  SPED students who sometimes struggle have found a place where they can feel successful in working with technology – whether it is robotics or egaming. 

The learning in Karla’s classes  is driven by students asking questions.  Even in her Finance class, if they want to know something, the can use technology to learn it and Karla and her students do it together so they can discuss what they find.  She isn’t just telling students to Google it. She is working with students to ensure they learn it.

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District Leader – Frankie Medlen, Weston County School District #7
Frankie Medlen Photo

Frankie is the Technology Director for Weston County School District #7. Her work and willingness supports personalized learning throughout the district. Frankie also remove barriers along the way, she is flexible to the needs of educators and forward thinking–always helping to propel the district in new directions.

Frankie has been instrumental in the development of Weston #7’s personalized learning initiative where the focus is student driven, future facing. Without someone like Frankie, who not only understands technology, but who also understands what teachers are working to accomplish in their classrooms, it would be difficult for the district to continue to move forward. Frankie is open to what teachers need and often offers new ideas to make things work more smoothly in the schools.

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State Leader – Don Day, Jr., Day Weather

Don Day, Jr. Photo

Don is a meteorologist at Day Weather. He seized an opportunity to develop and support STEAM education by developing a program, “Iter ad Astra” (“A Road to the Stars”) to have junior high science students in Laramie County design, construct, launch, and recover a high altitude balloon system. His project has brought together curricula from various departments within the junior high school as well as community volunteers from various disciplines to engage with students who learn through hands-on development and experimental activities. Together students build, launch, and recover a “flying satellite.”

“A Road to the Stars” was the brainchild and the passion of Don. He not only designed the program, but has introduced and offered to lead this new program to the schools in Laramie County. Financial requirements of the program are minimal, and with the initial Microsoft grant should be sufficient to fund the program for five-eight years. Don has brought  together support from Rotary members, a former NASA employee, programming specialists, and others in the community – volunteering their time and their expertise to support STEAM education in both school districts in Laramie County. Don and this program, exemplify how communities and professionals can and should be involved in and support STEAM education.

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2018 Award Winners
Innovative Classroom Leader – Charlie Richardson, Laramie County School District #1

Charlie Richardson portraitCharlie Richardson is a science teacher who works with at-risk students to help students overcome their stories in the hopes of guiding them to their greatest happiness.

Charlie has worked with the at-risk population as both a paraprofessional at the elementary level as well as a high school science teacher. This is Charlie’s sixth year of teaching, four of those years have been at Triumph High School in Cheyenne. His teaching is continually evolving and he is always looking to improve his classroom and “teach to the edges”, in hopes of challenging students who need more while providing additional support for students who need it. He is a firm believer in acknowledging each student as a human being and that school isn’t always the most important aspect in a student’s life. Charlie’s goal is to connect with each and every student and working in an alternative school ensures that he is able to do so. Charlie has always wanted to have a positive impact on people’s lives and there is no better professional to do so than teaching.

Charlie believes that education is a vital portion of the road towards greater happiness. He believes that there is a great deal about education that needs to be changed for the modern world and he aims to innovate through classroom design to lead to those changes. Technology can be a great asset in the classroom and can allow for every student to have an individualized education.

That is what Charlie strives to create in his classroom. A classroom where learning is the main requirement, not constrained by arbitrary timelines, but based on each individual students’ own level of understanding. Ensuring that each student will pass, not allowing them to fail, by instead eliminating time as a factor and pushing every student towards mastery with whatever methods students’ need to be successful.

Charlie holds a Bachelor of Science in Secondary Education and a Bachelor of Arts in Zoology and Physiology from the University of Wyoming. He plans on continuing his education to further improve his teaching.

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Education Leader – Stacey Dickson, Campbell County School District #1

Stacey Dickson portrait Stacey Dickson is a Google Certified Educator who has taught in Campbell County School District #1 for 15 years. Stacey strives to share her passion for technology integration with her students and colleagues. She believes in using technology as a tool to transform learning, empower students and inspire teachers to be co-designers in the learning process.

Her passion for technology integration became evident when she won a grant to become a 1:1 iPad classroom in 2014. While working with her students, Stacey noticed a path of digital learning that was opening new doors for her students. She started an after school Tech Club where students spent an hour exploring their digital passions from coding to stop motion videos. She quickly learned she had to be a digital learner along with her students.

Moving into the technology teacher position in 2015, Stacey Dickson empowered her K-6 students to be creative, communicate, collaborate and use critical thinking in a digital world. Her latest passion is using virtual reality and augmented reality to transform student learning experiences. Additionally, starting in 2018, Stacey facilitated the new STEM lab at her school where she challenged her students to become innovators who ask questions, make mistakes, and discover new learning.

Stacey also teaches classes for the district on using technology to enhance learning, promote creativity and engage students in assessment. This school year, Stacey hopes to inspire teachers to become innovative thinkers with her newest title as Professional Development Specialist, and work with teachers to integrate learning and new technologies into the classroom to empower students to create, collaborate and share their learning through technology.

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District Leader – R.J. Kost, Retired Park County School District #1

R.J. Kost Portrait R.J. Kost started out in Basin, Wyoming, graduating from high school in 1971. I received a double major  (Mathematics and Physical Education/Health) at Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Montana in 1975.

R.J.’s career started in Dubois, Wyoming teaching Math to students from 7th through 12th grade.  He made the statement that in 5 years he would probably look to another job but as the years moved forward he fell in love with the profession and the students he had the  wonderful opportunity to work with every day.

The Apple computer came along and caught R.J’s interest. He was fortunate enough to take a huge computer down to Laramie for a course in computer programming in Basic. Making geometric shapes and developing instructional strategies as he learned more was habit forming and he found he could get lost in time working on the challenges.

In 1982, R.J. was fortunate enough to get hired at Park County School District #1 in Powell, Wyoming where he has been ever since. Learning about graphing calculators,
programming graphing calculators, and finding out the difference between a tool and a crutch was not only exciting but rewarding. He was fortunate enough to build a makeshift computer lab of Macintosh computers which were rejects at the other schools so our students could do some amazing things with the programs we used. Grants from Texas Instruments kept my learning current with the computers and the calculators. Geometer Sketch Pad was one of the programs which fit very nicely into the instructional pedagogy and taught me that our students not only knew more about computers but also
had been raised on them so it was necessary to find ways to utilize the computer in the classroom.

Online learning started taking off and many heads turned in doubt as the higher education schools in the United States started providing online learning for some courses. Even through this doubt it was obvious this was the direction to go. In 2006, R.J. moved from the classroom to administration as the curriculum coordinator for the district. As virtual instruction has migrated he had the fortunate opportunity to be on committees and learn even more. Along with that, he could make positive changes for students in
our district. About 4 years ago the district was able to bring Canvas into our district and things have moved forward quickly from there. Working with grants to help in the classrooms and with materials such as drones and robots  the district moved up the ladder rapidly and, keeping the student in mind, provided opportunities for our students allowing flexibility and options. The district is far from completed with this undertaking but it is exciting and R.J. feels blessed to have been able to be part of the movement. R.J. hopes,
as he retires from education, he can continue to be active and innovative for our students as we continue to grow with technology.

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State Leader – Dennis Ellis, Microsoft

Dennis Ellis Portrait Dennis recently joined the Microsoft TechSpark initiative as the Cheyenne, WY Community Engagement Manager. He came to Microsoft from a public relations firm he
founded, Ellis Public Affairs, where he consulted for clients such as Wal-Mart, Google, Denver Children’s Hospital, Johnson & Johnson and Anadarko.

Prior to his return to Wyoming, Dennis served as Deputy Attorney General for External Affairs in the Colorado Attorney General’s Office and in Governor Bill Owens’ cabinet as Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the organization tasked with protecting the environment and public health of Colorado. Ellis also served as Legislative Director and Counsel for United States Representative Barbara Cubin (R-WY).

Ellis is a Wyoming native, where his family has owned a sheep and cattle ranch for over
110 years. He is married to Wyoming State Senator Affie Ellis, and is the father of
Marlo (10), Archer (8) and Linden (4). He holds undergraduate and law degrees from the
University of Wyoming. Ellis serves on the Steering Committee of the Wyoming
Business Alliance, is past President of Wyoming Ag in the Classroom, past Vice
President of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming and currently serves on Wyoming’s
Mixed Martial Art Commission.

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2017 Award Winners

2017 Digital Learning Award Winners with Jillian Balow, Superintendent of Public InstructionTighe Fagen (accepting on behalf of Erin Moore), Cameron Kukuchka, Superintendent Balow, and Julie Weitz at the 2017 Wyoming Innovations in Learning conference. 

Education Leader – Julie Weitz, Sheridan Junior High School

Julie Weitz is a true innovator in digital learning. As the Librarian and Media Specialist at Sheridan Junior High School (SJHS), Julie has led efforts to transform her library and its services to maintain relevance and establish itself as the school’s learning nerve center. Julie and her team were instrumental in rolling out 1:1 Chromebooks at SJHS. Since the seamless rollout several years ago, Julie and her team provided ongoing support, teacher training, repair, and leadership to keep the 1:1 program strong. With the dawn of 1:1 in her school, the computer labs that Julie maintained for years went by the wayside. Instead of becoming irrelevant, Julie revisioned the labs and created the SJHS Einstein Lab, a high-tech makerspace available to all students and teachers in the school. This makerspace is now the heart and soul of a strong after school program, where students create and tinker in a variety of technology-rich courses. Julie also utilizes technology to maintain her school’s rich reading culture. SJHS students devour books, and Julie has used technology to help students select the right books for them. After school, under Julie’s supervision, students create video book talks and link them to QR codes. Their peers can then access the videos using tablets or phones to help them decide whether to read a book. She has also worked to build up her storehouse of e-books for students who wish to read in a digital format. All of these examples clearly point to Julie’s innovation in digital learning. But Julie is also a leader in her school. Her credibility with teachers, vision for technology learning, and ability to get the job done have contributed to the strong digital learning environment and focus at Sheridan Junior High School.

Julie Weitz has been a teacher since 1981, and a school library media specialist since 1991. Her career has spanned the incredible revolution in how we teach, access information, communicate, and support teachers and students in our schools. It’s been an amazing journey.

Julie graduated from Utah State University in 1981 with a degree in Elementary Education. After teaching third grade for five years, she and her husband Mark moved to Laramie to continue their respective educations. It was at UW that Julie met the three professors in who helped her chart her future: Landra Rezabek, Professor of Instructional Technology, Barbara Chatton, Professor of Children’s Literature, and Audrey Kleinsasser, Professor of Educational Research. While working on her Master’s Degree in Library Media and Instructional Technology, Julie was given amazing support and inspiration by these dedicated and creative women.

The foundation of Julie’s work as a school library media specialist has been the enduring aspects of teaching and learning: curiosity, vision, perseverance, teamwork, and fun. Blending these attributes with the incredible changes and challenges in technology over the last 35 years has helped keep Julie grounded in what matters most: developing relationships and helping kids learn.

For Julie, there is always more to learn, more good books to read and share, and always more wonderful people helping along the way.  Julie couldn’t imagine a finer way to have spent her professional years than that of a library media professional at Sheridan Junior High School, having had the opportunity to work with so many remarkable professionals and amazing junior high kids.

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District Leader – Cameron Kukuchka, Johnson County School District #1

Cameron Kukuchka joined the Johnson County School District #1 team in July, 2015. Several days after he began, JCSD #1’s server hut experienced a catastrophic failure. Cameron immediately took charge and restored the district’s technology infrastructure: networks, servers, user accounts, etc. Cameron continued to put out fires and stabilize the district for some months after and could easily have made it his sole focus. Instead, Cameron immersed himself in both the administrative and instructional aspects of IT. He has become proficient with Standards Referenced Grading and mastered his understanding of educational software. He has consolidated the district’s licensing needs, saving money and assisting teachers in determining what they really require. Nonetheless, perhaps his greatest strengths lie with his passion for the instructional needs of our students.

Cameron has been an integral partner collaborating with local and state officials to create access to innovative digital learning opportunities for JCSD#1 students. His insight helped to refine a partnership with local officials and a proven company Interapt to bring real world training in coding to up to 16 JCSD#1 students. He has also worked with state officials at the Wyoming Department of Education and the Department of Workforce Services to bring opportunities to every JCSD#1 middle school student via a pilot project with industry volunteers.

As important as these efforts are, Cameron significantly impacted the lives of five high school students. Paid internships were created from an idea generated by Cameron. The five selected students were identified using a rigorous interview process. They worked diligently and learned the nuts and bolts of Chromebooks, iPads, PCs, and networking. Some even learned to configure servers. All were provided with invaluable life skills such as teamwork, problem solving, responsibility, accountability and strong work ethic.

This summer was exceptional for Cameron, his staff, and our student interns. Thanks to his leadership and their teamwork, every JCSD #1 school was prepared for the start of the year  equipped with Chromebooks and IPads, loaded with the latest versions of software. As Jason Moss, Principal of Kaycee K-12 School, noted: “Cameron has increased the instructional capacity of Kaycee School by stabilizing our network capability, increasing our bandwidth, updating our guest network, and successfully rolling out a 1:1 Chromebook initiative in the middle school and high school. “

As one intern’s parent wrote:“… his first “real job” was an excellent life lesson. He learned to communicate with his superiors, be on time and do what he was asked.  These are valuable lessons that only come with experience thanks to Mr. Kukuchka. Mr. Kukuchka took time to explain things, answer questions and even give advice….Mr. Kukuchka was patient and helpful.”

Cameron is a dedicated professional – thoughtful, innovative, personable and dependable. He works long hours, without complaint, and is always seeking new and better ways to administer the district’s technology department. We cannot think of anyone more worthy of this honor.

Cameron Kukuchka is a “Techie” at heart and computer professional who enjoys the evolution of Technology. He is detail oriented with vast knowledge in hardware, software, networking systems, disaster recovery, and end user support. Cameron is currently the Director of Technology and Innovation at Johnson County School District One. His career in information technology began in 1999 in K-12 education in northern Wyoming and his eighteen plus years of experience is comprised of serving various K-12 Districts around the state of Wyoming. After nine years of supporting Technology in K-12, he expanded into the private sector where he supported various verticals in business across Wyoming, Colorado and North Dakota. He has provided essential training and solutions to a number of district’s, agencies, and businesses across Wyoming. Cameron utilizes his experiences in business and education by implementing automation, enterprise solutions, and total cost of ownership (TCO) practices.

In addition to the globally recognized standard of achievement CISSP – Certified Information Systems Security Professional certification, he holds various vendor certifications including; Microsoft (MCPS, MCNPS, MCTS, SA), Cisco (CCNA, CCDA, CCNA Voice, CCNP), VMware (VSP, VTSP, VCA-DCV, VCP).

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Program Leader – Erin Moore, Gannett Peak Technical Services

Erin Moore, from Gannett Peak Technical Services, is an incredible and valuable partner with the Wyoming Department of Education in developing the Coders of the West program by advocating and advancing student learning in computer science and giving students an avenue to connect learning in computer science through internships.This program she designed began with 11 students from two school districts completing internships with two industry partners. This pilot is expanding in the 2017-18 school year, now in its second year, and is currently involving at least 8 industry partners in 5 different communities. As a part of this expansion, Erin is bringing together partners from both industry and schools to develop a semester long online computer science course designed to teach content industry needs while keeping students engaged and energized about computer science. Students will then take this learning and apply it to a variety of different fields within computer science.  

Thanks to Erin, this program has experienced a number of success indicators. Students learned about different components of software development from working with clients to define customer requirements, learning about frontend and backend development, cloud hosting, and GIS. These students also learned a host of employability skills including showing up to work on time, grit, team collaboration, working with remote teammates, and self-management. All student interns learned how to document the work they have done to show prospective employers along with how to describe their work on a resume.

In the first year, students participating in the internship completed a two week coding bootcamp co-taught by industry and postsecondary.

  1. Eleven students participated – 8 males & 3 females; 3 students were from an alternative high school; 8 students were considered at-risk students.
  2. Coordination on computer science needs between K-12, postsecondary, industry.
  3. Increase in students taking computer science classes at postsecondary level: 5 students will take postsecondary computer science courses in the 2017-18 school year; 1 student continuing postsecondary computer science courses at community college; 2 students entering military; 1 student left program since coding is not going to be his future career; and one student will be in 11th grade.
  4. Industry able to recruit increased number of employees from Wyoming.
  5. Increased number of students from diverse backgrounds participating in computer science.

Erin is partner and Chief Operations Officer for Gannett Peak Technical Services, a Wyoming software development company. She has over ten years of experience in software development and project management. She has worked with various programs over the years focused on giving youth unique educational opportunities in their communications; and believes youth if provided with opportunities and challenges will with take them head-on, excel, and help drive Wyoming’s future in a positive direction. Erin graduated from the University of Wyoming with bachelor’s degree in business economics and political science with a minor in decision science. She has a supportive husband and two wonderful children who remind her daily, what life is about and how much potential our future generations hold.

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STEM Educator Awards

The STEM Educator of the Year Award recognizes educators who are exemplars in the integration of hands-on, minds-on experiential learning opportunities in their classrooms.  These educators incorporate the applied integration of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics into their everyday teaching environments, and facilitate meaningful connections between what students are learning and the world of work.

2019 STEM Award Winners
  • Elementary – Shelby Randall – Park County School District #1
  • Secondary – Jessie Smith – Fremont County School District #24
  • Post-Secondary – Andrew Young – Casper College
2018 STEM Award Winners
    • Elementary – Heather Gibson
    • Secondary – Victoria Davis
    • Post-Secondary – Carla Hester-Croff
2017 STEM Award Winners
      • Elementary – Adrienne Unertl, K-5 STEM Educator, Clark Elementary School, Evanston
      • Secondary – Michael Power, Middle/High School Science Teacher, Meeteetse Schools
      • Post-Secondary – Jared Bowden, Physics/Astronomy Instructor, Casper College
2016 STEM Award Winners
      • Elementary – Christine Horsen, First Grade Teacher, Meeteetse Schools
      • Secondary – Teresa Strube, Middle School Science/Math Teacher, University of Wyoming Lab School
      • Post-Secondary – Dr. Edwin Bittner, Veterinary Technology Instructor, Eastern Wyoming College
2015 STEM Award Winners
      • Elementary – Abby Mowry, Teacher, Sagebrush Elementary School, Sheridan, WY
      • Secondary – Miken Harnish, Wheatland Middle School STEM Program, Wheatland, WY
      • Post-Secondary – Dr. Evert Brown, Science Professor, Casper Mountain Science School and Casper College

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