Meet 3 STEM Teachers Making A Positive Impact
Here’s a look at why access to STEM opportunities is important for an equitable future from the teachers making it happen.
In honor of National STEM Day, Honeywell partnered with the Carolina Panthers and the education nonprofit Digi-Bridge to recognize the organization's CEO and three Charlotte teachers who are inspiring students in their communities by leading extracurricular hands-on, project-based learning activities in robotics, cybersecurity, engineering, computer sciences and more.
Keep reading to learn the teachers’ stories and how their involvement with Digi-Bridge is powering a more equitable future.
Finding their purpose
Middle-school science teacher Keith Burgess was a college biology student with his sights on medical school. But an “aha” moment led him to get his teaching certification. He envisioned the impact he believed he could make as an educator and never looked back.
He said he feels it’s his mission as a teacher to maximize his students’ exposure to possible careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).
“The growth for STEM careers is exponentially growing, so working with the students in my community, and being in an underserved community, my responsibility is more than teaching them about science,” Burgess said. “It’s also: ‘How can I change your social and economic outlook through science?’ And ‘What opportunities will be available to you if you learn this?’”
Burgess, who’s in his seventh year of teaching in Charlotte, is also currently pursuing a doctoral degree in urban education.
Eighth-grade technology teacher Torie Leslie said that teaching is in her blood, but she didn’t embrace it as a career path until she was a college student studying computer science.
“The reality is that teaching was always a part of my life. My mother was a teacher, and my grandmother was a teacher,” Leslie said.
Now, in her 18th year as an educator, Leslie said she can’t imagine not being in the classroom. Since the start of her teaching career, Leslie said she’s felt strongly about connecting the dots between computer science and equity.
“When I started teaching, my schools offered a lot that I didn’t have when I was a student, so I felt compelled to make sure that whatever I was doing, I was making kids aware of what was possible,” she said. “It’s about giving a child an opportunity to try something, versus them not knowing it’s even an opportunity at all.”
LaTasha Monford, a technology educator for kindergarteners through fifth graders, has been teaching for 19 years.
She finds inspiration in leading hands-on activities that get her students exploring and tinkering.
Throughout her career, she’s taught science workshops for girls and often leads robotics activities.
“It’s amazing to see what [students] come up with when they are given the opportunity to solve problems and be creative,” she said, adding that one of her students recently made a flashlight out of tape, popsicle sticks and batteries.
Making an impact beyond the classroom
Leslie, Burgess and Monford continue inspiring students after school hours as facilitators through Digi-Bridge, which provides high-quality, hands-on, extracurricular programs for kindergarteners through eighth graders in Charlotte.
Honeywell sponsors Digi-Bridge’s STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) Lab program, which brings hands-on after-school programming to students at six Title 1 schools in Charlotte.
Teachers like Leslie, Burgess and Monford – who receive training and resources as Digi-Bridge facilitators – lead the STEAM Labs, which focus on topics like design, engineering, arts, data and tech and coding and gaming.
Digi-Bridge CEO Alyssa Sharpe said the programs can also help teachers learn new skills.
“We provide teachers the training, resources and access to resources they need to feel empowered and inspired while teaching. We want them to set an example of learning as you go,” Sharpe said.
Burgess said his involvement with Digi-Bridge stands out as an opportunity to reinforce what he’s teaching in science class at no cost to the student.
“It’s one thing to do the heavy-lifting by yourself, but when you know you have community partners helping you with that heavy-lifting, it makes things that much easier,” he said.
The teachers said that when students are given the opportunity to envision themselves being engineers, construction workers, doctors, business owners and more, it’s nothing short of inspiring.
“The future of Charlotte is in our classroom,” Monford said.