A National Science Foundation expert committee has selected a pair of Mississippi College School of Education alumni for the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government, specifically for science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and/or computer science teaching for kindergarten-to-12th grade.
As recipients of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, Laura Bivins and Millicent Gunter will receive a certificate signed by U.S. president Joe Biden, a $10,000 NSF award, and an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., to participate in recognition events, professional development opportunities, and discussions with policy-makers on how to improve STEM and computer science education.
The pair join Peggy Carlisle, Angela McKinnon, Vicki Moorehead, Dr. Minadene Waldrop, and Jennifer Wilson as MC alumni who have received this prestigious honor.
Administered by the NSF on behalf of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the PAEMST is awarded to individuals who reflect the expertise and dedication of the nation’s teaching corps, and demonstrate the positive impact of excellent teachers on student achievement.
Bivins, who earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in elementary education at MC, teaches kindergarten at Ann Smith Elementary School in Ridgeland. She has also taught at Madison Station Elementary School, Kosciusko Lower Elementary School, Oak Hill Academy in West Point, and Clinton Park Elementary School.
She boasts an impressive history of excellence in the classroom, according to Dr. Cindy Melton, dean of the School of Education at MC.
“During her 29 years of teaching kindergarten, she has provided a solid foundation and a warm and welcoming environment for countless students,” Melton said. “As seen in her bright smile and friendly demeanor, she is known for making learning fun. She has been recognized as a District Teacher of the Year, and also earned her National Board certification.
“We are so thankful for the impact Ms. Bivins continues to have on her students, school, and community, and for the way she has represented her alma mater. We are so very proud of her and the work she is doing to promote the profession of teaching.”
Bivins is known for using developmentally appropriate and engaging lessons and incorporating best practices for young learners. She routinely integrates the arts into her classroom and works closely with the mathematics coordinator to plan and implement math centers that are engaging and help move students forward.
She said she loves the tremendous growth her young students achieve, and she shares in their joy as they become fluent readers and confident mathematicians.
“The presidential award is an incredible honor and validates the time and energy I’ve put into understanding and implementing mathematics in my classroom,” Bivins said. “It is simply amazing to be recognized for doing what I love best – educating young children. I strive to build a community of learners within which my students can be confident problem-solvers.
“I am excited to share this award with my colleagues and my family who have supported my career and my passion for being a lifelong learner.”
Gunter, who received her B.S. in elementary education from the University of Southern Mississippi and her master’s degree from MC, has been an educator for more than 30 years, including the last 18 teaching in the Gulfport School District. She has a highly qualified status in mathematics from Mississippi State University.
She teaches all subjects in third grade at Bayou View Elementary School in Gulfport, and has previously taught at Westminster Academy in Gulfport and Diamondhead Academy.
“We are so excited about the wonderful impact Millicent has made on her students and the field of education throughout her career,” Melton said. “It is so encouraging to see her passion and commitment to the profession of teaching recognized both within our state and at a national level as she displays and promotes the values we strive to instill in our future educators.
“She is an excellent example of a dedicated teacher who makes learning fun for her students. We are very proud of her accomplishments and wish her continued success.”
In addition to teaching third grade, Gunter also serves as a K-5 mathematics coach. As a lead teacher, she facilitates professional development for teachers, continues to build a site-level collaborative mathematics team, mentors student-teachers, monitors site-level mathematics programs, plans activities to celebrate student successes, and orchestrates “Family Math Night.”
She has served on several district and state committees and has implemented programs and enhanced curriculum from the numerous national conferences she has attended. She received the 2006 Hannah Hatfield Award for excellence in education and was named Teacher of the Year in 2000, 2004, 2011, and 2016.
“Being named a finalist for the presidential award has been a truly humbling experience,” Gunter said. “I am extremely grateful for teachers and colleagues who have mentored and encouraged me throughout my journey of teaching. This award recognizes my commitment to providing the best mathematics instruction I can for my students, and it is rewarding to know that I have had an impact on their success.
“This award inspires me to continue to search for best practices in education and implement them with intention.”