Congratulations to all of our Voya Unsung Heroes winners. Each year, 50 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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Martha Tomeo (2018)

Healy, AK
Tri-Valley School

Tomeo’s innovative teaching idea, “Mirrors & Windows/Globally Aware,” focuses on creating a global awareness and citizenship project to increase young readers' experience with diversity. The Tri-Valley School’s mission is to nurture, empower and inspire today's students to positively shape tomorrow's world. With the funds from the Voya grant, Tomea will purchase diverse books for the school’s library collection. If sufficient funds are leftover, Tomeo and her students will host one or more diverse authors, which would tremendously impact student awareness and perspective on global citizenship.

Charlsie Wigley (2018)

Chelsea, AL
Chelsea Middle School

Wigley’s innovative teaching idea, “iMarch Films,” focuses on creating an innovative interdisciplinary project that allows students at Chelsea Middle School to connect the past and present. After reading about the Civil Rights Movement, students will travel to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute where they will observe artifacts and research local occurrences. Based on their areas of interest, groups will be paired with a community volunteer who participated in the Civil Rights Movement in the area. Students involved in the project will then interview these volunteers for the creation of an educational video focused on the volunteer's story. The final videos will then be featured in the school’s library and on the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute's website. With the Voya grant, Wigley hopes the films will be shared with other Civil Rights organizations in effort to promote awareness of courageous local unsung heroes.

Patti Haataja and Allie Norton (2018)

Mobile, AL
Covenant Christian School

Haataja’s and Norton’s innovative teaching idea, “Neuroscience Investigation,” focuses on expanding the current science and electronic programs at Covenant Christian School. With the Voya grant, students involved in the project will be able to understand brain functions by investigating, hands-on, how neurons work. Students will use innovative kits to construct electronic items that test hypotheses that they create which will demonstrate the sensitivity of neurons and muscles and how they interface with each other to react to stimuli. The students will also have an opportunity to learn about the newest technology for prosthetics and neuron activity and gain an understanding of this hands-on learning experience through “real science”.

Rushton Wood-Thuston (2018)

Center Point, AL
Erwin Intermediate School

Wood-Thuston’s innovative teaching idea, “Game On: Design Your Own Game,” focuses on creating an intersection of creative and critical thinking skills through the design of a personal video game. Recognizing the importance of technology in modern education, student involved in the project with learn how to design, build, and share their very own game. Through specific gaming lessons, Socratic circle discussions, brainstorming, and prototype creation, Wood-Thuston hopes students will learn to take a creative approach to real-world problems. Wood-Thuston will use the Voya grant to purchase necessary software and coding programs, leveraging them to enable the tech-savvy students at Erwin Intermediate to express their love of learning in a new light. Through the conceptual lens of design, Wood-Thuston hopes to teach with cutting-edge technology in the classroom and help future career paths within the high-demand gaming industry.

Cherese Smith and Catherine Epstein (2018)

Ozark, AR
Ozark Junior High School

Smith’s and Epstein’s innovative teaching idea, “Pen Pal Program,” focuses on bringing together students from rural and urban locations through a series of critical topics throughout the year. The new pen pals will be focus on writing about their personal feelings, thoughts and recognized stereotypes with the hope that these differences will be celebrated and embraced empathetically. Students involved in the project will be encouraged to discuss important issues while improving their writing, typing, social, and current event skills. With the Voya grant, Smith and Epstein will eventually be able to permit the students to travel to meet in person. This program provides an exciting opportunity to witness the conversational exchanges between students of different backgrounds and beliefs in addition to having them understand how to foster mutual respect and a deeper understanding of current issues.

Donya Hadder (2018)

Williams, AZ
Williams Elementary/Middle School

Hadder’s innovative teaching idea, “Geared for Engineering, STEAM,” focuses on revamping the Williams Elementary Middle School science program to align with new generation science standards. With the Voya grant, Hadder will develop a strong science curriculum that will reach the core of students’ critical thinking. Each week, students will spend time in a lab setting that incorporates higher level thinking skills and project- based learning. Each month, they will focus on one particular project based learning goal. By creating a maker space utilizing 3D printing technology, students involved in the project will learn to become designers and creators by using cutting edge technology to visualize and create their own imaginations.

LaFawn Berry (2018)

Queen Creek, AZ
Gateway Polytechnic Academy

Berry’s innovative teaching idea, “Books and Bots,” focuses on integrating literature and robotics with the use of children's books to allow students to program robots for certain tasks. Students involved in the project will read one of two books, dependent on their grade level, reading will pause in strategic places for a science and technology activity. The book and "bot" program will encompass approximately eight sessions. Within these sessions, students will learn how to draw scientifically, program a robot to move on command, follow specified routines and paths and test different surfaces. According to Berry, the Voya grant will allow for the purchase of necessary project elements, giving students an opportunity to connect reading and science in a unique and engaging way. By using robots to solve the problems it will build critical thinking skills while using a problem-based learning model.

Jolene Vincent (2018)

Phoenix, AZ
Desert Sands Middle School

Vincent’s innovative teaching idea, “Interviewing Military Veterans,” focuses on generating increased civic engagement through interviewing a veteran and preserving his or her story in a biography format. Students involved in the project will engage with their community through a new medium and learn about the important sacrifices made by the men and women who have served to protect our country as well as others. Students will conduct recorded veteran oral history interviews and publish the stories in an annual book with the support of the Voya grant. Most notably, the students will archive these veteran stories at the Library of Congress and attend a book signing ceremony where they will listen to stories of former military service members.

Robin Newsom-Wuertz and Jessica Parker (2018)

Carlsbad, CA
Sage Creek High School

Newsom-Wuertz’s and Parker’s innovative teaching idea, “Peer to Peer Teaching,” focuses on supporting student's second language development through the use of video production, website creation and peer to peer teaching and learning. Students involved in the project will work to design a website and materials that connect to American Sign Language (ASL), deaf culture, and deaf history. The learning involves the individual exchange of abilities, experience and communication in order to create a final product. With the Voya grant, students will create a website of information showcasing what they have learned while using authentic community signers. The website will be shared to help inspire and increase proficiency in ASL programs throughout the country as resources for authentic, native signers can be limited.

Daniel McKinney (2018)

Menifee, CA
Santa Rosa Academy

McKinney’s innovative teaching idea, “Hydrorecyverticuture,” focuses on placing students in the role of agricultural engineers who strive to maximize crop yields while minimizing resource consumption. Students are tasked with designing, building, and evaluating an original solar powered, vertical, recirculating plant propagation system. Through this project, McKinney will demonstrate the problem of an increasing human population taxed by decreasing fresh water, arable land, labor and other resources, while engaging the students in helping to find a solution. McKinney believes in the importance of facilitating an authentic STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math)-based experiences for his students by promoting research, construction, plant propagation, and data analysis skills.