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Congratulations to all of our Voya Unsung Heroes winners. Each year, 100 finalists receive $2,000 while three of them are selected as Top Winners to receive additional grants of $25,000, $10,000, and $5,000. You can find winners for your state or for a specific year using the controls below.

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Beau Sawyer (2015)

Big Lake, AK
Houston Middle School

Sawyer’s innovative teaching idea, “Theater in our Schools,” is focused on building a theater program for all middle school students, as well as interested students in the neighboring high schools that do not offer any arts programs. There has been a steady decline in art classes within schools around the country making extracurricular programs critical to provide theater opportunities to students. Sawyer’s theater program will bring arts to students at these title one schools, which currently offer limited after school programs, and give them the opportunity to perform in their community.

Suzanne Sullins (2015)

New Market, AL
Buckhorn High School

Sullins’ innovative teaching idea, “Lights, Camera, Action!” is focused on creating a student broadcast station to provide students with the opportunity to use broadcast production techniques as a means to learn technological skills that they will need throughout their lives. Using state-of-the-art equipment, students will work as part of a team to solve the problems associated with creating a broadcast: equipment use, planning a broadcast, writing a script, and solving the problems involved in creating a finished broadcast. Sullins believes these broadcasts also will serve as a means to promote school events through a daily news program for the school and community, acting as an excellent public relations tool for the school. This broadcasting program is a means to help students achieve technological literacy - an essential in today’s global community.

Teresa Zimmer (2015)

Guntersville, AL
Cherokee Elementary School

Zimmer’s innovative teaching idea, “Making Makers,” is focused on challenging students to invent, experiment and take risks by enhancing the elementary school’s “makerspace” — an educational workshop for students who learn best by doing. Zimmer plans to improve this learning environment by adding circuit stickers, which are peel-and-stick electronics that students can use to build glowing, sensing and interactive projects without complicated equipment or programming skills. Adding a new component of circuitry to the “makerspace” workshop will provide infinite possibilities of open-ended inquiry, creativity, imagination, and learning that students will discover is fun, challenging and authentic. This type of hands-on, learning environment also will help reduce the gender gap in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) skills for young girls.

Kerry Goff (2015)

Mobile, AL
McGill-Toolen Catholic High School

Goff’s innovative teaching idea, “Biotechnology Lab Experience,” is focused on expanding students’ understanding of the use of biotechnology through first-hand experience in the classroom. The students will use equipment to carry out an experiment beginning with extracting DNA from an organism and later visualizing the DNA through gel electrophoresis. By working through the entire process, the students will gain a more accurate understanding of how the biotechnology works and the possibilities in research that the biotechnology presents. Biotechnology plays a larger role in biology now than ever before. Goff believes this project will generate excitement about careers in science, especially ones that may not lead directly to medicine.

Brittany Berry (2015)

Springdale, AR
Helen Tyson Middle School

Berry’s innovative teaching idea, “HTMS Collaboratory,” is focused on creating an interactive and collaborative workshop in the school where students can actively engage in science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) education. This learning space, called the HTMS Collaboratory, will be designed by the middle school students and used during and after school to expose students to cutting-edge resources in technology like 3D printers, microcontrollers and computer-aided drafting (CAD) programming. This project will benefit all students, especially those with limited access to technology at home. Additionally, it will engage students in advanced technological concepts and inspire them to consider STEAM careers.

Patricia Daniels (2015)

Greenbrier, AR
Westside Elementary

Daniels’ innovative teaching idea, “Bridging Communities,” is focused on making real-world literary connections to all levels of learners through collaboration, communication and creativity. One component of the program, called “ePals,” will involve the use of technology so that her fifth-grade students can connect with other fifth graders in the places they read about around the globe. Daniels says this can enhance the impact of reading and comprehension for children as they learn about different cultures through the eyes of other fifth graders like themselves. Other components will involve the creation of a current dictionary of slang and texting language that students will share with their older relatives (grandparents) and community members and also the production of a Great Depression video where each student will write, videotape, edit and interview a relative or community member who lived during the Great Depression or the Dust Bowl.

Jeff Sweet (2015)

Phoenix, AZ
Alhambra High School

Sweet’s innovative teaching idea, “New Media Marketing,” is focused on using technology and software to teach students about digital marketing in a collaborative, challenging and engaging way. Marketing experts no longer solely rely on traditional media outlets like radio, television, magazines, newspapers and signage to sell their products to consumers. Instead, savvy marketers are reaching customers online by communicating with them directly through websites, apps and social media. Sweet will teach students how to develop and build a student-managed website utilizing current digital and social marketing techniques. They will then be responsible for promoting the website and creating content including a commercial or public service announcement to incorporate in a “live” event and for later viewing on the site. This program will teach students to creatively apply new media marketing skills including analytics, mobile, social media, web design, video production, search engine optimization, and project management.

David Shorts (2015)

Lodi, CA
Reese Elementary School

Shorts’ innovative teaching idea, “Be Amazing Video Program,” is focused on equipping students with the tools, training, and environment to dream big in a world of endless restrictions. Through the program, students will create original music videos by both being in front of and behind the camera to share their unique messages with other students through their class projects. The students will receive training in music recording and video editing tools, while gaining expanded musical knowledge of writing and/or performing. The content of the videos and songs will teach important lessons as well, focus on character education, drug resistance, anti-bullying, life choices, and a myriad of potentially constructive life changing themes. Shorts believes that “Be Amazing” is about solidifying positive life choices, positive skills, and positively outstanding video projects.

Michelle Radovich and Yvette Casillas (2015)

Anaheim, CA
Roosevelt Elementary School

Radovich and Casillas’ innovative teaching idea, “Lights, Camera, Action - TV Time,” is focused on starting a weekly news broadcast, “Roosevelt News”, at Roosevelt Elementary School, which will allow students to incorporate media literacy and technology skills. The program, which will be part of a new Media Literacy session, will provide an opportunity for students to experience technology in a creative and fun environment while still encouraging the development of standards they are learning in the classroom such as grammar, writing, reading, and speaking skills. The TV show production process will allow the students to utilize the 4 Cs — critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, and communication — which are emphasized throughout the Common Core standards. Radovich and Casillas believe this program will benefit the entire school, as it will be aired weekly to all classrooms and, eventually, all students will have the opportunity to become part of the Roosevelt News Team.

Maureen Horne (2015)

Pleasant Hill, CA
Sequoia Middle School

Horne’s innovative teaching idea, “Coral Reef Tank – STEM in Action,” is focused on maintaining a coral reef aquarium that offers students a hands-on way to apply chemistry, biology and environmental sciences. Through studies centered on water chemistry, data collection and analysis, and coral growth and propagation, students will gain a deeper understanding of how sciences connect to real-world careers. The combination of science content from various disciplines will encourage them to ask questions, make observations and use findings to solve problems. The program also will lead students to learn about STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) related professions. To engage in environmental stewardship, Horne says the students will care for the corals, propagate them and trade or sell them to others to lessen the demand for wild-harvested specimens.  Students will observe the inhabitants and equipment to learn about how a closed system operates and the dynamics of energy conversions.  Horne says these overarching ideas of science are often difficult to teach without a real-world experience.