Shawnee Middle School geography teacher Cheyenne Branscum was made an Advocate for the second year by the Society for Science and the Public and was awarded a grant to continue her work with students and STEM education.
According to Branscum, she received a $3,000 stipend, an all-expense paid trip to Washington, DC for the Advocate Training Institute and support throughout the year.
"(The stipend) will be used to continue the advanced Geo Team. I have eighth graders and I hope to continue to engage them when they're at the high school level and then I want to continue working with my middle schoolers as well," Branscum said.
When she applied for the grant, Branscum said she was nervous about being chosen for a second time but she was very excited when she heard the news.
"I apply for a lot of grants but this one means a lot — it's not just about the money. It's also about the support...so when I got it again I was extremely excited...," Branscum said.
The educator explained when she told her students they were happy but not that surprised by the news.
"They're really excited. I don't think they're really surprised...They know all of the amazing things that they've accomplished because getting the grant renewed is not just a reflection on me it's a reflection on them...," Branscum said.
According to President and CEO of the Society for Science and the Public and publisher of Science News Maya Ajmera. for five years the Society's Advocate Grant Program has chosen educators across the country to encourage students in their scientific endeavors.
"The Advocate program is selecting teachers and mentors who work with students...to create a posse of students who are underserved or live in underserved areas and help them compete in science research competitions," Ajmera said.
The CEO explained students benefit from participating in science fair competitions because they learn great communication skills, collaborative skills and it's an entry way into college scholarships.
This is the second year Branscum was made an Advocate. Ajmera explained she was chosen because of her work as a Citizen Potawatomi Nation tribal member with Native American students and the SMS Geo Team.
"She is our only person from Oklahoma this year and we're just so thrilled...and she's working to get tribal youth interested in STEM inside and outside the classroom so we're really excited...," Ajmera said.
Branscum said the first week of June she will attend the Advocate Training Institute where she will be among her peers and fellow advocates.
"(I'm looking forward to) getting reconnected with my fellow Advocates...I will have a new lead Advocate this year and so I'm really excited to see who my new lead Advocate will be...," Branscum said.
For Branscum being an Advocate means helping Shawnee youth as well as their parents.
"It's kind of an extra responsibility to not only engage students but also engage the adults in the community around me and make them understand how important STEM education is especially in a community like Shawnee where we don't always get to give students access to great STEM education...," Branscum said.
The program began in 2015 and since then Ajmera explained more than 1,500 students have competed in nearly 2,400 science research competitions.
"We just want to see thousands and thousands of underserved kids competing at their science fairs and moving on to the national science competitions...and them winning and becoming the next generation of scientific and engineering leaders and innovators,' Ajmera said.