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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Charlene Griesner and Jared Savage (2016)

Sanger, CA
Fairmont Elementary and Junior High School

Griesner’s and Savage’s innovative teaching idea, “AG-STEM Learning Lab,” is focused on helping enhance educational opportunities for students by combining agriculture and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) principles. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there is a growing demand for high-skilled, agriculture-related jobs. This program will provide a working environment where students can learn in formal and informal settings — integrating the outside farm with the Ag-STEM Learning Lab. Students will have the opportunity to use state-of-the-art equipment and technology to learn how to meet the demands of the global economy. Specifically, students will use digital tools like graphing and analysis software, digital microscopes and 3D printers to design, construct, manage and maintain the outside farm.

Scott Hudson, Erich Grey Litoff, Ashley Hill, Kristin Cruz, Jim Pitochelli and Matt Winston (2016)

Fullerton , CA
Fullerton Union High School

The team’s innovative teaching idea, “FUHS BEAST Program,” is a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) program focused on the creation of movie special effects. Students will create moving artworks that mimic life through original engineering and sculptural works, using wood, aluminum, clay, 3D drafting and printing, and silicon and foam latex. The BEAST (biology, engineering, arts, science and technology) course prepares students to think both critically and artistically. The team has partnered with California State University’s Fullerton’s Visual Arts Department, and has professional ties and support from the Stan Winston School of Character Arts, the Jim Henson Creature Shop, Knott’s Berry Farm and other movie effects’ studios – to ultimately deliver the most professional and college-level educational experience in a high school setting.

Tomoko Vidales (2016)

Suisun City, CA
Crystal Middle School

Vidales’ innovative teaching idea, “8th Grade Math Makerspace,” is focused on creating a safe environment to help middle school students who are struggling with mathematics achieve success. The math “makerspace” will allow students to work in small groups and one-on-one with teachers to practice and improve their math skills. Additionally, students will complete math-related projects each quarter and present their best project to the entire school during a math makerspace fair at the end of the year. The goal is to show students that mathematics is everywhere and they can achieve success. By changing their math mindset, Vidales hopes students will gain a stronger sense of self-worth and a more optimistic outlook on accomplishing their future goals.

DeWayne Mason, Ph.D. (2016)

Jurupa Valley, CA
Patriot High School

Dr. Mason's innovative teaching idea, “Morality and Diversity Murals,” is focused on providing an art outlet for students to apply moral thinking and art expertise to create murals that recognize and promote diversity and important moral values. The project goal is to advance students’ knowledge of the core values of a “good society,” including teamwork, respect, responsibility, commitment, discovery, empathy and the pursuit of excellence in learning and character. The associated art benefit is to teach students the elements, principles and purposes of art. By combining these two areas, students who are not typically enrolled in formal art classes at the middle- and secondary-levels will have the opportunity to grow both morally and artistically. This project expands upon an innovative, but limited, program currently underway at Patriot High School — and seeks to serve up to 22 schools and 10,000 students in grades six through twelve. Project murals will be displayed at highly visible school, district, and community venues, for all to see the positive impact of the program.

Russell Nail and Cole Sampson (2016)

Arvin, CA
Grimmway Academy

Nail’s and Sampson’s innovative teaching idea, “Aquaponic Gardening,” will give students a new perspective on farming with insights into efficient use of land, water, energy and ecological resources. Students will research, engineer and build a system to capture, filter and recycle water from the school’s culinary kitchen to use in an aquaponic gardening project. Aquaponic gardens are self-sustaining environments that allow both crops and aquatic animals that have a symbiotic relationship to live together in harmony. The project will provide students with real-life examples of solar power production, photosynthesis and the water cycle. Additionally, students will gain knowledge and hands-on experience with the lifecycle of aquatic animals, such as shrimp and fish. The project will also empower students to apply “green” concepts to working examples of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) curriculum they can use and experience. 

John Magee (2016)

Sunnyvale, CA
Fremont High School

Magee’s innovative teaching idea, “Survival of the Hairiest!”, is focused on growing Wisconsin fast plants in order to teach students the process of natural selection. The students in Magee’s biology class will watch the plants grow from seeds to fully mature plants. They will cross-pollinate the “hairiest plants” in the population, and will continue to select and regrow the seeds from these plants over the whole school year – representing how this process takes place over time. For many students, this will be the first time they have the opportunity to see the full life cycle of a plant, from seed to seed. With the grant, Magee’s goal is to purchase a set of Chromebooks and Vernier probeware – a new generation of high-tech instruments for collecting and analyzing data on temperature, motion, gas pressure, light, and other characteristics, allowing students to investigate photosynthesis, analyze respiration rates in the plants, and collect data on the hairiest plants throughout the process.

Erin Gocinski (2016)

Manitou Springs, CO
Manitou Springs High School

Gocinski’s innovative teaching idea, “Metalsmithing Class,” is focused on creating a class to engage students in the art of metalsmithing – building and shaping items out of various metals. Through this program, students will gain exposure to metalsmithing tools and techniques, and will learn how to safely use torches and power tools, broadening their scope of independent abilities. During the class, they will have the opportunity to put their skills to use in creating functional or wearable pieces, such as tools, kitchenware, jewelry, and tableware.  In addition to attracting more students to the arts program, Gocinski believes this course will empower students to accomplish greater successes and will expose them to a new field that they may consider pursuing in college or as a career.

Mark Donato and Leah Roeder (2016)

Denver, CO
The Logan School

Donato’s and Roeder’s innovative teaching idea, “Logan Works Project Labs,” is focused on creating a makerspace at the school where students can imagine, invent and build. The goal is to offer students the opportunity to take their unique and often sophisticated ideas beyond simple drawings or models. Rather than being limited to materials from the supply closet, students will have access to a variety of tools and resources in the areas of technology, woodworking, art, engineering, design and programming. The Logan Works Project Labs will be compromised of two centralized areas and themes: 1) will be focused on woodworking, metalsmithing and glassblowing; and 2) will house robotics, media recording equipment, a 3D printer and other computer technology. This program will empower students to act on their big ideas and problem solve as they inevitably face challenges. Additionally, it will bridge classroom research with hands-on, original creation. 

Tari St. Marie (2016)

Denver , CO
The Logan School

St. Marie’s innovative teaching idea, “The World Peace Game,” is a simulation of real-world crises that requires students to work together to find solutions to global problems. The goal is for students to discover that they have the ability to tackle complex world issues and solve them. The simulation creates a deliberately overwhelming world with more than 50 crises modeled based on real events. While faced with these challenges, the “game” removes traditional rules and the students become responsible for innovating, collaborating and communicating solutions to address each dilemma. Over the course of 15 hours, the students are given specific challenges and take on different roles as they grapple with issues such as civil war, climate change, income disparity and environmental disasters. Throughout this process, St. Marie hopes students will learn how to think critically, collaborate in teams and empower each of them to make big decisions in their own lives.

Carolyn LaRosa (2016)

Killingworth, CT
Haddam Killingworth Middle School

LaRosa’s innovative teaching idea, “Amp Up The Learning,” is focused on introducing students to digital electronics to help them better understand how electricity works. While most sixth graders are fascinated by this topic, LaRosa has discovered the majority of her students have a difficult time relating basic circuits to the items they use in their daily lives. LaRosa plans to purchase Arduino boards, which are easy-to-use circuit boards that her students can program. This will help them bridge the gap between the hypothetical and real-life application. Students will be able to see how everyday electronics work and even design some of their own electronic creations. Additionally, this program is designed to help LaRosa’s sixth graders hone their critical thinking and problem solving skills.