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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.


Monica Alicea (2017)

Marietta, GA
Cheatham Hill Elementary School

Third Place Winner

Alicea’s innovative teaching idea, “Serving 4 Cause, Farm 2 Table,” focuses on hosting a dinner to benefit the Must Ministries “Save it Forward” program. The school’s staff is invited to eat a meal prepared by their students at the Kitchen Kids Café. Diners pay for dinner with a bottle of laundry detergent, which is donated to Must Ministries. Through this experience, students not only learn how to cook, but also gain knowledge about hunger and homelessness in Georgia. With the Voya grant, Alicea hopes to expand her project by purchasing gardening equipment that will enable her students to grow produce for families in need.


Carol Mickus, Dr. Vanessa Watkins and Dr. Lis Maynard (2016)

Austell, GA
Cooper Middle School

First Place Winner

The team’s innovative teaching idea, “Moving Into Middle Through a Science Portal,” is focused on helping students who attend Clarkdale Elementary School, many who come from low-income households, increase their academic achievement through a successful transition into Cooper Middle School. Through weekly visits and hands-on activities in the middle school’s science lab, elementary students will increase their comfort, confidence and competence in science — while middle school students learn how to become peer mentors. With the help of the students at Cooper Middle School, fifth graders will learn the middle school culture, set up their own science notebooks, participate in labs, and learn how to successfully navigate the middle school science curriculum and the school itself. The $27,000 grant will allow Cooper Middle School to transform its existing science lab into a safe and productive space for the program and extend the hands-on experience that is currently offered. Specifically, the funds will purchase additional equipment, including lab kits, dissection supplies, a Lego table and an interactive white board to expand the program’s robotics offerings for students. As the project grows, the team plans to expand the program to include other elementary schools in the community.  

Shea Havens-White, Angela Yake, Grant Rogers and Jason Siwek (2016)

Cedarville, OH
Cedarville High School

Second Place Winner

The team’s innovative teaching idea, “No Holds Barred,” is focused on helping students in business, science and technology classes take their learning beyond textbooks and use their knowledge to create an actual enterprise. The students will engage in a project-based learning experience where they will have the opportunity to build, design, market and sell products of their own creation. Students from four different classes with four different teachers will work together collaboratively throughout the process. Students will begin by learning the basics of entrepreneurship and business management as they form their own small business. Students in engineering classes will then use their skills in mathematics, technology and science to create the unique products by using specialized software and equipment like 3D printers and 3D cutters. The product will then be packaged and sold by business classes on the school’s e-commerce site. The project will help students see the real-life connection of what they learn in the classroom, while also encouraging them to think like scientists, artists and entrepreneurs.

DeWayne Mason, Ph.D. (2016)

Jurupa Valley, CA
Patriot High School

Third Place Winner

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.


Jane Layman and Richard Love (2015)

Scottdale, PA
Southmoreland Middle School

First Place Winner

Layman and Love’s innovative teaching idea, “Shark Tank 7th Grade Style,” is focused on allowing students to experience what it's like to be entrepreneurs by merging business and technology to inspire students to one day start their own business. The two teachers will give students the opportunity to see what it's like to develop an idea from scratch, create and design a new product, calculate the financials to market and sell that product, and finally present the product to a group of potential investors exactly like the popular ABC television show Shark Tank. The students will be required to produce at least 10 prototypes of their product, pull together financial statements, build a presentation, and actually present the information to a panel of five “sharks” from the community, asking for a "deal" — or percent stake in their company.

Victoria Chatfield (2015)

Brooklyn, NY
Williamsburg Collegiate Charter School

Second Place Winner

Chatfield’s innovative teaching idea, “Screen It,” is focused on using performing arts to foster collaboration among students in all grade levels. This project will allow students at Williamsburg Collegiate Charter School to create a series of short films that will be presented at a festival in the school’s auditorium, which is open to the Brooklyn neighborhood. Eighth graders will direct, seventh graders will write, sixth graders will design, and all students will be eligible to perform in the short films. Through this project, students will engage and collaborate across all grade levels — enhancing the learning of younger students, while encouraging older students to become role models and leaders in the school’s community. Chatfield’s idea was inspired by a seventh-grade student who wrote a screenplay about a young man who unsuccessfully fights to overcome the gang culture of his neighborhood and go to college. After an in-class reading, classmates gave the student a standing ovation and wrote dozens of requests asking if the screenplay could be performed the following year. Chatfield hopes to capture this enthusiasm by using performing arts to help students learn, collaborate and grow together. 

Timothy Overocker and Eric Schroeter, Ph.D. (2015)

Pleasant Prairie, WI
LakeView Technology Academy

Third Place Winner

Overocker and Schroeter’s innovative teaching idea, “Teaching Physics through Radio,” is focused on helping students understand how wireless technology works by building an amateur radio station in the classroom. Students will use this tool as a platform to learn about wave theory, sound, light, electricity, magnetism and space. Through experimentation as amateur radio operators, students will fuse what they learn with next generation science standards in physics. They will directly apply STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills in the design, construction and use of the radio station. Students also will work with community organizations to learn about how wireless technology is used in emergency communications. They will take this knowledge and share it with other schools and the community through field-day activities, presentations and a website.


Mary Clark (2014)

Chicago, IL
Solorio Academy High School

First Place Winner

Biotech Learning and Earning” is designed to expose the school’s underserved population of high school students to a state-of-the-art advanced science course that will improve their knowledge about, skills for, and application in biotechnology. Using the classroom laboratories and leveraging the school’s partnership at a local university and hospital, students engage in advanced biotech activities. For example, students perform DNA extractions and practice techniques working alongside research scientists. These laboratory experiences enhance students’ opportunities for scholarships and work-study programs to help offset college tuition while providing real-world experience and insight into career opportunities. Students will also become knowledgeable and practiced consumers of scientific research and experience how biotechnology can benefit them personally, their families, and the community at large.

Patti Shaffer (2014)

Aztec, New Mexico
C.V. Koogler Middle School

Second Place Winner

Life Around Us” is a two-fold multi-media project in a 21st century classroom setting.  During the first semester, students will collaborate with peers to create a persuasive multi-media documentary.  The documentary theme will be a human-interest story, a social injustice, or a story about improving society.  Student teams will research topics and prepare a storyboard for the presentation.  Filming will begin and the final presentation will be shown to a campus audience.  During the second semester, students will create a multi-media real-life documentary.  Students will interview a member of the family, a senior citizen volunteer, a brave veteran, or any community member asking questions about changes in society and the impact the social changes have made on their lives.  Students will then create a video as well as a keepsake book for the individual that was interviewed.  This project will inspire students, from our 21st century classroom, to create multi-media projects about society and life around us.

Meredith Mooney (2014)

Manvel, Texas
Dr. James "Red" Duke Elementary School

Third Place Winner

“Opera Alive: Song, Story, Art” is designed to help fifth grade students connect with true stories from American history by using the stories to compose original one-act operas. Incorporating visual arts, each class will write a libretto, make staging decisions, and finally orchestrate the opera using Orff instruments. During the process, students will conduct research by conducting a virtual interview with local music professionals as well as historical research. By doing so, the students will find the true stories they want to bring to life. Technology will be used to notate and “test” music during the creative process as well as record video of the completed projects. This innovative project will bring history to life for the students, helping them make deep connections with the material. The project will also teach several different Texas curriculum standards in social studies, English/language arts, music, and art.