Innovative Educational Program Takes Third Place in National ING Unsung Heroes Awards® Competition


“Lighthouse Creation Studio” helps students learn and apply STEAM skills to real-world problems and ideas in new and innovative ways

 ING U.S., a leading provider of retirement plans and programs for educators, announced today that Aaron Vanderwerff, a teacher at Lighthouse Community Charter School in Oakland, Calif., has received the third-place prize in the national 2013 ING Unsung Heroes® awards program.

Through this program, ING U.S. awards grants to educators throughout the U.S. for innovative teaching ideas.  As the third-place winner, selected from nearly 1,300 applications, Vanderwerff will receive $5,000 to add to his initial $2,000 grant, bringing his grant total to $7,000 to help fund “Lighthouse Creation Studio,” the award-winning program he is implementing at Lighthouse Community Charter School. 

ING U.S. began the ING Unsung Heroes program in 1996 to demonstrate the company’s commitment to the education community.  Over the years, the program has awarded more than $4 million to 1,800 K-12 educators to honor their innovative teaching methods, creative educational projects and ability to positively influence the children they teach.

"We are thrilled for ING U.S.’s recognition of Aaron's vision and dedication to innovation at our school,” said Jenna Stauffer, director of Strategic Development at Lighthouse Community Charter School.  “Through hands-on experimentation, our students—from kindergarten to 12th grade—are developing the kind of creativity and determination that will help them solve problems in class and apply that in the real world.  What better way to realize our mission of preparing every child—regardless of their background—for college and a career of their choice?"

“Lighthouse Creation Studio” is designed to help students; ages five through 19, learn and apply STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) skills to real-world problems and ideas in new and innovative ways.  Older students will learn how to use conventional hand and power tools and computer-aided design (CAD) to design parts and test assembly.  The younger students will learn to make their ideas a reality by using age-appropriate materials and programming kits.  Vanderwerff has found that students are motivated by their own ideas while being encouraged by mentors, peers and teachers.  The Creation Studio is designed to be a safe place where participants can try something, fail, and try again; where teachers can be innovative, team up across grade levels and introduce new ways of learning. 

Vanderwerff, who resides in Oakland, believes that throughout the process, students will acquire grit, gain confidence, and learn how to take an idea from concept to production.  He also hopes the Creation Studio will inspire more students to enter STEAM fields.

The $7,000 ING Unsung Heroes grant award will allow Vanderwerff to purchase additional WeDo kits so that he can expand the number of students who are able to participate in this engaging, hands-on experience from 30 to more than 700 students. 

“ING U.S. is honored to salute these outstanding teachers for their innovative ideas and dedication to America’s youth,” said Jamie Ohl, president of Tax-Exempt Markets for ING U.S. Retirement Solutions.  “Each day, we help individuals prepare for a secure financial future, and we are proud to help these men and women who prepare students for their future.  With the ING Unsung Heroes grant, Aaron’s project can continue making a positive impact on the children he teaches.”

To learn more about this year’s winning projects, as well as those from previous years, visit the ING Unsung Heroes website.  More information about the program can also be found on the ING Unsung Heroes Facebook page where people can like and share the page to encourage more educators to apply.  Applications for the 2014 ING Unsung Heroes awards are currently being accepted through the website until April 30, 2014.                                                                



 Press inquiries:

Phil Margolis                                                                                                                

ING U.S.                                                                                                            

Office:  (860) 580-2676                                                             

Cell:  (860) 805-7642                                                     

[email protected]

About ING U.S.

ING U.S. (NYSE: VOYA), which plans to rebrand in the future as Voya Financial, is a premier retirement, investment and insurance company serving the financial needs of approximately 13 million individual and institutional customers in the United States.  The company’s vision is to be America’s Retirement Company and its guiding principle is centered on solving the most daunting financial challenge facing Americans today — retirement readiness.  Working directly with clients and through a broad group of financial intermediaries, independent producers, affiliated advisors and dedicated sales specialists, ING U.S. provides a comprehensive portfolio of asset accumulation, asset protection and asset distribution products and services.  With a dedicated workforce of approximately 7,000 employees, ING U.S. is grounded in a clear mission to make a secure financial future possible — one person, one family and one institution at a time.  For more information, visit

©2011 ING North America Insurance Corporation. All rights reserved.