2021 Outstanding Earth Science Teacher Award Winners

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Outstanding Earth Science Teacher (OEST) awards are given for "exceptional contributions to the stimulation of interest in the Earth Sciences at the pre-college level." Any teacher or other K-12 educator who covers a significant amount of Earth science content with their students is eligible. Ten national finalists are selected, one from each NAGT regional section. Some sections also recognize state winners. Individuals may submit an application themselves or nominate a colleague for the award.


Central Section - Christopher Bolhuis, Hudsonville Public High School

Chris Bolhuis has been teaching science at Hudsonville High School for 24 years. He graduated from Grand Valley State University in 1994 and began his teaching career in 1997. Over the years, he has taught mainly in the Earth and Space Sciences. In 2001, Chris began teaching Geology as a new course offering. During that same year, he partnered with Dr. Stephen Mattox from GVSU in an attempt for students to earn college credit after taking Geology. In 2002, Chris began teaching a course called Summer Science Institute. This class takes 26 Hudsonville seniors on a 3-week-long geology field course to the western United States. His students are exposed to primitive camping, strenuous hiking, and incredible learning during this trip. One of his greatest passions is letting students experience geology outside. In 2018, Chris proposed and is now teaching a new course called Astronomy.

In 2020, Chris started a weekly podcast called PlanetGeo as an outreach project aimed at educating the general public about our amazing planet, how it all works, and why geoscience is important. His podcast partner, Dr. Jesse Reimink, is one of his former high school students and now a geoscience professor at Penn State University. Doing this podcast has been one of the best professional development endeavors of Chris' career.

Eastern Section and West Virginia State - James "JR" Bunner, Parkersburg High School

Far Western - Dr. Nicholas "Nilo" Bill, Tahoe Expedition Academy

Nilo puts students first. If you walk into Nilo's classroom you will likely find students engaged in hypothesis driven science or discussions surrounding scientific epistemology, or, how scientists know what they know. You may also walk into Nilo's classroom and not find him there because he is out in the field with his students. No matter where he is in the field with his students, Nilo believes there is an outdoor lesson in Earth science waiting to be unleashed. Armed with the belief that the real world provides the most interesting and useful problems to solve, and that is where Nilo's classes always begin. Nilo has taught geoscience lessons to students in the field in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the Nevada desert, Owens and Death Valleys, the Olympics of Washington, the Pacific Coast, the Cascades and the Colorado River among other places. Teaching in the field, especially on multi-day fieldwork is a passion of his. Nilo believes that an eye toward his students' future is important while maintaining a healthy dose of fun and adrenaline along the way. Along with geoscience education, Nilo values creating students that are the best versions of themselves, being able to not only teach students geology, but mentoring students into adulthood as well. As a NOLS Wilderness First Responder, Nilo takes field-based education very seriously and is excited when his students continue on in the field of geoscience after their time with him. Nilo earned his Ph.D. in geology from Oregon State University and has been excited about sharing his passion for helping students understand Earth systems ever since.

Midcontinent - Angela Thomas, Casady School

Dr. Angie Thomas has been teaching for 5 years and currently teaches Earth Science at Casady School in Oklahoma City. She earned her B.A. in Philosophy, M.S. in Project Management from Missouri State University, and her Ed.D. in Aviation and Space Science from Oklahoma State University. After working in the aviation industry, her heart was drawn back to teaching; where her passions of science and education were finally intertwined.

Dr. Thomas' interests have always involved earth sciences. She believes that a hands-on pedagogical approach evokes curiosity and she provides her students with as many organic experiences as possible. Her teaching style focuses on project-based learning as the foundation of acquiring a deeper and more authentic knowledge base. Her lessons have included testing the pH of soil, geology bingo on nature hikes, frog swabbing for chytridiomycosis, planting milkweed nurseries, building energy-efficient home models, and monitoring schoolyard weather stations. She also continually challenges her students to be cognizant of their ecological footprint.

Dr. Thomas currently serves on the Oklahoma Science Teaching Association (OSTA) Board as the Middle School Division Director where her focus is to create hands-on professional development opportunities for Oklahoma teachers. This summer, she will work in conjunction with the Museums of Western Colorado to host the first annual Educator Dig- an opportunity where teachers and students will participate in a 3-day sauropod and theropod dinosaur fossil excavation. In 2019, she was awarded the Outstanding Science Educator New Horizons Award.

In her spare time, Dr. Thomas spends her time with her husband and 3 sons. They are avid explorers and have visited all Oklahoma State Parks and are making their way through the US National Parks. They enjoy camping in their pop-up with their 2 dogs, an English Mastiff and a Maltipoo, and tending to their Monarch Butterfly Waystation.

New England - Kara Ratigan, James H. Eldredge Elementary School

Southeastern Section and Florida State - Monika Moorman, Central Park Elementary

Monika Moorman has been an educator for over 20 years in grades ranging from first to adult education in both general and gifted settings. She has spent the last three years teaching fourth grade at Central Park Elementary, Florida. Originally from Poland, she completed her M.Ed. in international teaching at Framingham State University, MA. She is a proud re-certified NBCT in early and middle childhood literacy. Monika is a STEM, computer science and environmental education advocate, a Solar System Ambassador with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Teacher Liaison with the Space Foundation, and National Wildlife Federation Habitat Steward.
Over the years, she has sponsored a variety of afterschool endeavors including Robotics Club, VEX IQ, SECME, Math Club, Solar Car League, ArcGIS digital mapping Club, and Green Team, to name a few. Her students are regularly recognized in the district, state and national competitions including SECME, ArcGIS, and NASEF Minecraft challenges. Recently, she has been selected to a highly competitive national cohort tasked with creating the K-12 Cybersecurity Learning Standards. Earlier this year, Monika has been named Broward County Public Schools 2021 Teacher of the Year (Broward being the sixth largest school district in the country).
Monika's classroom has been considered an exemplar of a student-centered interdisciplinary elementary environment, all while integrating computer science. She intentionally creates a space that promotes science identity development by creating authentic opportunities to conduct the practices of science, connecting students with non-stereotypical scientists, and selecting content of high relevance to students' lives. As such, she he has recently been named the SEFS Super Star Teacher for her work with the UF Thompson Earth Systems Institute's initiative: Scientist in Every Florida School.
Monika perceives education as a journey of self-discovery where students are equipped with tools to realize their full potential as well as their integral connection to community and society. Monika immerses her students in educational experiences that nurture curiosity, question status quo, embrace mistakes, and empower by amplifying diverse student voices.
A polyglot, who enjoys exploring nature with a camera in her hand, Mrs. Moorman has learned never to underestimate students' voices, as they have inspired her most memorable projects.


Louisiana- Erin Nevala, Ruston Junior High School

Erin Nevala is a teacher and coach at Ruston Junior High School in Ruston, LA. Erin began her teaching career at Louisiana Tech University after earning her Bachelors and Masters degree in Kinesiology: Sports Performance. She later realized her true passion for teaching the middle school demographic through coaching 12U travel baseball teams and went on to earn her Masters in Teaching from Louisiana Tech. Erin has been teaching 7th grade science at RJHS for four years while coaching softball and cross country.

Erin's teaching philosophy is anchored and defined by the relationships she builds with students in her classroom. She strives to provide a relatable and unique education to her students through the implementation of discovery based learning. Erin first provides a universal phenomenon and then guides students as they plan, execute, and review experiments to explore the content. Each experiment and exploration of phenomenon allows students to contribute and connect their personal experiences in a culture of error. This culture affords students the opportunity to work collaboratively to share and form ideas in a respectful environment without fear of shame. Students challenge and build upon their peers' ideas and engage in rich discussion to further their understanding of the content in a safe learning environment.

Mississippi - Gail Davis, Lafayette Upper Elementary / University of Mississippi High School

Gail Davis began her career in education in 2004 as a 5th grade science teacher at Lafayette Middle School after receiving her bachelors in elementary education from the University of Mississippi. Out of a desire to deepen her science content knowledge, Davis began pursuing her master's degree in Geoscience from Mississippi State University, conferring the degree in August 2012. After exhibiting exemplary instructional talent as a 5th grade educator, Ms. Davis began teaching Earth and Space Science at the University of Mississippi High School in October 2014, in addition to her 5th grade math and science position.

As a lifelong student in education, Davis continuously looks to implement new instructional strategies to engage her students. Davis has designed, built, and implemented an asynchronous course for her students at the University of Mississippi High School. Due to her background in geosciences, Davis incorporates many experiments utilizing rock and mineral sets and supplements each and every lesson with videos, readings, and lab-based learning.

Davis has received numerous teaching honors. She has been nominated for the Presidential Award for educational excellence, awarded 2012 Teacher of the Year for her school, and her on-line course was nominated for an ADEIL award in 2016.

New York - Theresa Smith, Lincoln High School

Mrs. Theresa Smith has been teaching for over 20 years. She is a graduate of the Yonkers Public Schools and started her teaching career at Enrico Fermi Elementary School. While there, Theresa brought science into her class whenever possible, including having a fish tank, growing butterflies and bringing guest speakers in. Theresa later earned her science certification from Empire State University and taught for 1 year at Saunders High School and is currently an Earth Science Teacher at Lincoln High School in Yonkers, NY. Theresa has been teaching at Lincoln for 12 years. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree from SUNY Oneonta and her Master's degree from Iona College. In 2019, Theresa achieved National Board Certification and was named a NYS Master Teacher.

Theresa believes that all children can learn, and stops at nothing to make sure that she reaches all of them! Her methods include sending positive notes home to each child, purchasing supplies for exciting labs (can anyone say Oreo moons or density of chocolate??) and even makes sure that breakfast and lunch are available to her students by visiting the cafeteria each day during her prep to pick up the food! Theresa has created several successful projects on Donors Choose that have allowed her to assemble and distribute individual lab kits to her students so that they would have the necessary materials to complete labs during distance learning. These kits included everything from rulers and safety compasses to granola bars and candy! She understands Maslow's hierarchy! Theresa also arranged for her students to "join her" during the pandemic to watch the launch of SpaceX via their TEAMS meeting! She wasn't going to let the pandemic stop her, so she even arranged a series of virtual field trips to Son Doong Cave in Vietnam, Yellowstone National Park and even Mars!

Not only does she stimulate her students in class, but Theresa frequently organizes activities for the 9th graders during lunch with various STEAM projects, including teaching them origami, painting and making slime! Theresa is also the mother of Helen, who just graduated Moravian College, and Daniel, who is a Sophomore at St. Thomas Aquinas College. She loves spending time with her children, her husband, Dan, and brings what she learns from them back into her classroom.

North Carolina - Brandon Dillman, White Oak High School

Brandon Dillman is a high school science teacher at White Oak High School in Jacksonville, NC. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree with an influence on natural resources from Central Michigan University. He has been teaching science within Onslow County for over 13 years. In 2015, he was named teacher of the year for White Oak High School and was a district finalist. In 2018, he was given the Voya Unsung Heroes Award for his work with environmental education on honeybees. For the past decade, Mr. Dillman has created and advised the "Green Team", an environmental awareness club that has completed a variety of unique projects on and off campus including a school apiary. Mr. Dillman continues to push education beyond the classroom walls by providing the opportunity for students, staff and community members to work together to conserve and protect an important species, the honeybee. He has led his school to become a beacon of environmental excellence for the Onslow County School system and constantly strives to educate students, faculty, and staff to become better environmental stewards.

Pennsylvania- J Atkins, E.N. Peirce Middle School

J. Atkins, a 20 year veteran teacher in secondary science, is currently an 8th grade science teacher and Science Department Chair at E.N. Peirce Middle School in the West Chester Area School District in West Chester, PA.

Mr. Atkins is also an adjunct faculty member in the Natural Sciences and Education Departments at Immaculata University and he is also currently involved in the Professional Development School (PDS) program for West Chester University serving as both a PDS mentor and the PDS liaison between the university and the schools in which student teachers are assigned. Mr. Atkins has been an integral part in getting the PDS program going at the secondary level and has assisted many PDS interns in their full-year student teaching experience. Mr. Atkins' educational philosophy for all his students is to challenge and provide inquiry activities that empower students to take charge of their learning. Additionally, he is a strong believer in the co-teaching model where instructors share their specialties with other teachers and interns.

Mr. Atkins' degrees include a B.S. in Earth Sciences and a M.A. in Geography and Planning from West Chester University as well as a M.S. in Geosciences from Mississippi State University.

South Carolina- Hannah Quinley, Mauldin High School

Hannah Quinley is a science teacher at Mauldin High School. She has been teaching for four years, all of them at Mauldin. After graduating with her undergrad, Hannah worked in community health, before deciding to obtain her MAT from Clemson University. Hannah came into teaching thinking she would impact her students, but the opposite has happened! She loves watching young people be motivated to learn new things. She tries to implement a variety of levels of inquiry based learning in the classroom through both hands-on and virtual assignments. In her teaching philosophy, she prefers to work as a facilitator while guiding students towards learning science principles. Students in her class complete virtual labs, hands on labs, and jigsaw activities while reinforcing those activities with notes, videos, or podcasts. Hannah enjoys finding new activities and resources that she can implement in her classroom. She looks for ways that she can become a better teacher each day.

OEST State and Section winners are strongly encouraged to take an active role in NAGT, NESTA, and all other organizations that support the OEST Award Program.