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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Robert Pinsker (2016)

Hamden, CT
Engineering and Science University

Pinsker’s innovative teaching idea, “MakeHerSpace,” is focused on providing the opportunity for all students, especially girls, the opportunity to engage in do-it-yourself (DIY) activities that fuse technology, art, construction and crafts into their own form of learning. This space serves to recruit and retain girls in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) courses, and offers the tools and materials for students to apply the engineering design cycle process – ask, imagine, plan, create, and improve. Pinsker believes that student learning will be improved through using the rigorous STEM content, coupled with the skills of questioning, observing, finding patterns, and constructing meaning in a social and creative DIY environment – and will broaden their horizons beyond the classroom.

Jennifer Hilderbrand, Alison Villanueva, Rick Roos, Kristi Svendsen and Josh Halsband (2016)

Danbury, CT
Shelter Rock Elementary School

The team’s innovative teaching idea, “No Homework! Play Video Games!”, is focused on students learning math in a deeper and more interactive matter. Students will be working towards a common goal of completing standard base video games, which in turn will provide data to teachers as the students are learning. In order to complete each level, students will have multiple opportunities to work with one another to create "cheats" for a math video game. They will work in teams to create one of the following: App, Screencast, YouTube Tutorial, Interactive Keynote presentation, Podcast, or Hyperlinked Blog, that demonstrates a deep understanding of how to use the mathematical techniques discussed during class time. Students will have no choice but to apply their thinking, design and create original programs, reiterate their prototypes and collaborate strategically. Ultimately, the motivation to “beat the game” drives this initiative.

Travis Coleman (2016)

Washington, DC
Leckie Elementary School

Coleman’s innovative teaching idea, “Clay Therapy,” is focused on using ceramics to help students develop and strengthen their critical thinking skills in a relaxed and expressive environment. Coleman believes ceramics is the perfect outlet to encourage students to explore their creativity and take risks. The program will be held after school, and students will have the opportunity to participate several times per week. Coleman’s goal is to help students develop, perceive, contextualize and express — which will allow them to be more creative, analytical and free in the classroom. Additionally, Coleman hopes students will develop a sense of pride and ownership after creating unique works of art with the clay.

Matthew Farina (2016)

Wilmington, DE
Mount Pleasant Elementary School

Farina’s innovative teaching idea, “Exer-Bike to Books Movement Room,” is focused on a fitness-integrated teaching initiative, incorporating exercise into the everyday classroom. According to Farina, studies have shown that physical activity in the daily lives of students has a positive effect on their cognitive skills, attitudes, academic behaviors and achievements. Students involved in the program will have an opportunity to learn while moving. In launching the program, the group will purchase stationary pedal desks to promote a learning movement room for the students by providing fitness and fun in the classroom.

Steven Roberts (2016)

Ocala, FL
Liberty Middle School

Roberts’ innovative teaching idea, “Building Quadcopters,” is focused on teaching students how to use computer-aided design and apply engineering to the process of building quadcopters. Students involved in the program will learn about production and systems technologies that keep multi-rotors in flight. In addition to uses in the classroom, “Building Quadcopters” will support other classes at Liberty Middle School through the use of drones and 3D printing opportunities. A 3D printer will allow students to print models for use in science, health occupations and robotics classes. These tools will have endless impact beyond the initial project and will greatly help to generate interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) learning opportunities.

Mary Fish (2016)

Boca Raton, FL
Spanish River High School

Fish’s innovative teaching idea, “Teach Biotech with Zebrafish!”, is focused on enhancing the educational experiences of the students at Spanish River High School as well as the students at the neighboring middle school. The program will breed and study zebrafish as well as create a zebrafish aquaponics lab. In doing this, Spanish River High School will have an opportunity to enhance their current biotech program with more exciting lab work involving model organisms. Additionally, the program will offer science research opportunities to the students and improve the schools current agribiotech unit. Students involved in the program will be able to breed and study zebrafish as well as create a specialized zebrafish aquaponics lab. Fish has taught Biotechnology in the school's four-year academy for the past nine years. Spanish River High School is one of only three schools in the Palm Beach County School District to offer such a program, with more than 500 graduating students. Being such a unique program, “Teach Biotech with Zebrafish” will continue to offer a strong and meaningful experience to the students on an ongoing basis.

Beverly Bunning, Jenn Netro, Stephanie Moreland and Mary Ellen Woods (2016)

Navarre , FL
Holley Navarre Primary School

The team’s innovative teaching idea, “Weather on the Gulf Coast,” is a lab-based program focused on providing students with the opportunity to learn about the impact of weather, specifically hurricanes, on their coastal community – while encouraging them to become independent thinkers. The lab, encompassing STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics), will not only enable students to learn about the issues surrounding disastrous weather, but will also equip them with the important skills to think critically, collaborate, create and communicate. With the grant, the teachers will build a dedicated STEAM lab to support this unique learning program for 890 students. They believe that students learn best when they are engaged in a fun, challenge-based, hands-on learning environment that connects real-word experiences with the school curriculum.

Jacqueline Sonara (2016)

Boynton Beach, FL
South Tech Academy

Sonara’s innovative teaching idea, “All Our School’s A Stage,” is focused on bringing Shakespeare into the classroom in an engaging and integrated way for students. By transforming her classroom into an Elizabethan theater, Sonara believes that students will be able to connect the historical dramas to modern day occurrences — such as comparing the characters in “Macbeth” to this year’s presidential candidates. With the grant money, students will have the opportunity to design stage sets for Shakespeare’s Globe Theater and act out scenes from classic plays. Through this hands-on teaching method, students will gain enthusiasm on the topic, build a foundation in classical literature and history, and will become even more well-rounded individuals.

Lauren Ritter, Mary Davis and Kim Ruark (2016)

Athens, GA
Howard B. Stroud Elementary School

The team’s innovative teaching idea, “Seed to Plate,” is focused on teaching students about food production and nutrition by building a school garden. Howard B. Stroud Elementary School currently has eight small garden beds, but unfortunately no tools to utilize them. The team will purchase gardening equipment, storage, seeds and plants so students can gain an appreciation for gardening and learn where their food comes from. The group will also purchase children’s literature to help teachers integrate the new school garden into their lesson plans.

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

Austell, GA
Cooper Middle School

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.