Georgia Tech GIFT Alumna Wins Top National Educator Award

Carrie Beth Rykowski Honed Her Science and Mathematics Teaching through CEISMC's GIFT Program

Science teacher Carrie Beth Rykowski of Cumming, Georgia, is one of the 2018 recipients of the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. The White House announced the award on June 25. The recognition is the highest for excellence in teaching that is available to K-12 mathematics or science teachers in the U.S.

A Georgia Tech graduate (BS ’07 Management), Rykowski was a sixth-grade earth sciences teacher in 2012-15. She has been a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) teacher for grades 6-8 at Vickery Creek Middle School, in Forsyth County, Georgia, since 2016.

Rykowski is an alumna of the Georgia Intern Fellowship for Teachers (GIFT), which profoundly influenced her teaching.

GIFT is a program at Georgia Tech’s Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics & Computing (CEISMC). It pairs K-12 STEM teachers with science and engineering mentors for summer internships. The program’s goal is to give teachers real-world research and industry experience. It also assists educators in creating innovative lesson plans for STEM classes.

Rykowski participated in the GIFT program in 2014. Peter Hesketh of George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering was her mentor. From 2015 through 2017, Rykowski worked with Ayanna Howard, at the School of Interactive Computing.

Because of the GIFT experience, Rykowski shifted her teaching away from students having to memorize. Instead, she asks students to figure out how we know what we know. That shift “exemplifies CEISMC’s goal of empowering teachers to advance students’ interest and readiness to excel in STEM,” said Bonnie Harris, director of GIFT.

When Rykowski noticed that students enjoyed arts-infused engineering lessons, she created an elective course: STEAM Generation, which combines arts, engineering, and computer science. More than 300 students in grades 6-8 have registered for the course for the 2018-19 school year.

Rykowski also participated in PRIME, a sub-group cohort of the GIFT program funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), where she learned computer programming. She now coaches two robotics teams at her school. She introduced her students to Scratch, an online coding platform, which her classes use for science projects.

“I am so excited about this award. It is a huge vote for STEAM and the amazing work my students have created,” Rykowski said. “The partnership between NSF, Georgia Tech, and my classroom has made a huge impact. Kids get to see themselves as scientists and engineers who can solve exciting problems.”

Rykowski is also proud that her students consistently perform well on the end-of-year standardized test, the Georgia Milestones.

Award recipients lead their communities in improving mathematics and science education. They receive a certificate signed by the President of the United States. They are invited to Washington, D.C., to participate in recognition events and professional development opportunities. They also receive a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation.

Rykowski has presented her lessons at multiple Georgia Science Teachers Association Conferences and at the 2016 Woodruff Arts Center Educator Conference.

In 2016, Rykowski drew upon her GIFT lab experiences and consultations with her mentors to win the Paul A. Duke GIFT Action Plan Achievement First Place Award. She placed third in 2017. The annual award, presented at the End of Summer GIFT Program luncheon recognizes three outstanding teachers for converting their GIFT internships into lesson plans.

“We are so proud when a GIFT teacher is recognized in this way.  It is a testament to their excellence in the classroom and leadership in STEM education,” said CEISMC Executive Director Lizanne DeStefano. “The GIFT program will continue to identify and support outstanding STEM teachers across the state of Georgia.”


By: Rosemary Pitrone - CEISMC Communications

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For More Information Contact

Bonnie F. Harris

Director, Strategic Partnerships
Program Director, Georgia Intern-Fellowships for Teachers (GIFT)
Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics and Computing (CEISMC)
College of Sciences
Georgia Institute of Technology
817 West Peachtree Street, NW, Suite 300
Atlanta, GA 30308 USA