NASHVILLE – We are delighted to announce the winners of the Excellence in STEM awards, a series of competitive awards that recognize outstanding teachers, leaders, and advocates in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education. 

Nominations were open to the public in the Spring of this year and recipients were recognized at the 2024 Tennessee STEM Innovation Summit, May 9-10, 2024, at Music City Center in Nashville, TN.

“We are thrilled to recognize the outstanding individuals that have demonstrated exceptional dedication to advancing STEM education in Tennessee,” said Brandi Stroecker, TSIN Network Director. “Their innovative approaches and unwavering commitment to excellence are not only transforming the lives of students but also setting a benchmark for STEM education statewide. These awards celebrate their achievements and highlight the critical role of STEM in shaping a brighter future for our communities.”

This year’s awardees of the STEM Excellence Awards include: (biographies included below) 

Excellence in STEM Teaching Award
Emily Ann McDonald, Mathematics Teacher, University High, Hamilton County School District

Excellence in STEM Leadership Award
Ben Bruce, STEM Coordinator, Sumner County Schools

Excellence in STEM Leadership Award
Dr. Renee Meeks, Principal, Sea Isle Elementary School, Memphis-Shelby County Schools

Excellence in STEM Advocacy Award
Dr. Dedric McGhee, STEM Director, Memphis-Shelby County Schools

Excellence in STEM Innovation Award
Dr. Catherine Jones, Principal, Prescott South Elementary School, Putnam County Schools


Biographies and Award Information

Excellence in STEM Teaching Award
The Excellence in STEM Teaching Award acknowledges a teacher who embodies integrated, STEM-infused teaching strategies, classroom innovation, and whose efforts have resulted in positive student learning outcomes. These are the educators who pave new paths and ignite curiosity in their students.

Emily Ann McDonald 
Mathematics Teacher, University High, Hamilton County School District

Emily Ann McDonald a mathematics teacher at University High in Hamilton County Schools, is revolutionizing the way students perceive math and STEM. This new and innovative school is a product of a partnership with the University of Tennessee Chattanooga, and it is already making an impact.

Ms. McDonald captivates her students by presenting them with real-world scenarios and relevant problems, while also fostering their independence. She not only empowers them with voice and choice but also values their diverse perspectives and interests. By emphasizing the interdisciplinary nature of STEM fields, she illustrates how mathematics intertwines with technology and practical applications. She equips her students with problem-solving skills that set them up for success in their future educational and career choices.

Excellence in STEM Leadership Award
The Excellence in STEM Leadership Award acknowledges a leader who leads by example, supports their people, reinforces a culture of STEM, and draws people together. This award recognizes an individual who has taken innovation to unprecedented heights and cultivated such a robust STEM culture that their school or district has become a destination for inspiration.

Ben Bruce
STEM Coordinator, Sumner County Schools

Ben Bruce has served as the STEM Coordinator for Sumner County Schools for the past 12 years. His tenure has been marked by the initiation of numerous programs that have significantly influenced the schools, students, and communities in Sumner County, fostering a deeper understanding of STEM throughout the county.

Mr. Bruce has been a stalwart advocate for STEM, aiding schools in hosting 40 STEM nights for students and families and mentoring 12 schools to achieve STEM/STEAM designation. He established and led a district STEM Leadership Team, which developed summer STEM lessons for the past three years. Beyond this, he has created and curated an impressive array of resources, including videos, PBL lesson plan templates, student engineering design process aids, and much more.

Dr. Renee Meeks
Principal, Sea Isle Elementary School, Memphis-Shelby County Schools

Dr. Renee Meeks is the principal of Sea Isle Elementary, has been instrumental in fostering a vibrant STEM culture within the newly designated school and its surrounding community. She leads by example, demonstrating the engineering design process to her staff, and inspiring her students to strive for excellence and embrace their curiosity.

In addition to providing enhanced and diverse professional development opportunities, Dr. Meeks and her team have cultivated relationships with community partners, integrating them into the fabric of Sea Isle’s culture. These partnerships have produced impactful results that resonate throughout the school and extend into the community.

Dr. Meeks has spearheaded an initiative to boost student engagement through clubs. By expanding the school’s offerings and supporting her faculty, she has increased student involvement in school activities and sparked interest in pursuing further STEM education.

Excellence in STEM Advocacy Award
The STEM Excellence in Advocacy Award honors a Tennessean who has shown a dedication to STEM education through their public advocacy and involvement in leadership organizations that promote universal access to STEM. This individual illuminates their district and schools across the state with their unwavering enthusiasm for STEM.

Dr. Dedric McGhee
STEM Director, Memphis-Shelby County Schools

Dr. Dedric McGhee, the STEM Director for Memphis Shelby County Schools, has dedicated 22 years to the field of education, with experience spanning the classroom, central office, and post-secondary institutions. More than just a leader, he is a passionate advocate for STEM education.

Tirelessly cultivating partnerships, he has significantly expanded community resources. His quest for knowledge is unending, leading him to attend, present at, and help plan educational conferences. His continuous efforts to support teachers have been instrumental in the growth and development of the schools. With a focus on STEM integration, Dr. McGhee encourages teachers to be bold, experiment with new ideas, and embrace the joy of learning.

Excellence in STEM Innovation Award
The Tennessee STEM Innovator Award recognizes a Tennessean that has demonstrated an outstanding contribution to the support of STEM education and outreach within his or her region. This awardee is a leader that identifies, supports, and promotes innovative teaching practices regionally. The success of this awardee serves as a catalyst for STEM integration across the state.

Dr. Catherine Jones
Principal, Prescott South Elementary School, Putnam County Schools

Dr. Catherine Jones, the principal of Prescott South Elementary School in the Putnam County School System, has been a trailblazer for STEM education. Her unique signature is evident in every interaction, and many seek her mentorship and expertise.

Dr. Jones has ignited a passion for STEM among her students, teachers, school, district, and even across the state. She has collaborated extensively with us to develop programs, host school visits, and create meaningful content. Prescott South Elementary School is often referred to as a beacon for STEM for All. It’s a place where students from diverse socio-economic statuses, backgrounds, and motivation levels are all actively engaged in learning.


By embracing possibilities and championing change, Dr. Catherine Jones has made a significant impact on the lives of countless students and educators.