STEM Innovation Award Recipients Announced

SALT LAKE CITY (April 19, 2017) – The STEM Action Center will hold its third annual STEM Innovation Awards in partnership with Utah Technology Council as part of the Utah Innovation Awards dinner on Thursday, April 20, 2017. Five individuals will be recognized for their contributions to STEM education statewide.

The STEM Innovation Awards recognize Utah students, teachers, counselors, administrators and mentors who are excelling in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Nominations were open to the general public from February to March of this year. The STEM Action Center team and the STEM Action Center Board, through a rigorous process, selected this year’s awardees:

  • Kathy Liu, student at West High School
  • Dawn McNiel, 5th grade teacher at Mountainville Academy
  • John Donley, CTE Coordinator and principal/administrator for Weber School District
  • Jill Wood, Day Camp Director with the YMCA of Northern Utah
  • Mark Jones, Counselor at West Jordan Middle School

Dr. Tamara Goetz, executive director of the Utah STEM Action Center, along with Richard Nelson, president and CEO of Utah Technology Council will present the award.

“It is an honor to be able to be able to recognize and celebrate the amazing efforts that these individuals have contributed to students, teachers, parents and our community,” Dr. Goetz said.  “They have made a difference in so many lives, and we know that our student awardee will carry on this good work as an ambassador of STEM education.”

The teacher, counselor, principal and mentor will be recognized and will receive a trophy and a $2,000 grant for STEM projects, while the student will receive a trophy and an iPad Mini.

Note: See below for recipient information.


About the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED)

The Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) charter is based on Gov. Gary R. Herbert’s commitment to statewide economic development. The state’s economic vision is that Utah will lead the nation as the best performing economy and be recognized as a premier global business environment and tourist destination. GOED provides extensive resources and support for business creation, growth and recruitment statewide, as well as programs to increase tourism and film production for the benefit of Utah residents. All administered programs are based upon strategic industry clusters to develop a diverse, sustainable economy. GOED accomplishes its mission through unprecedented partnerships. For more information please contact: Aimee Edwards, (801) 538-8811 or

About the STEM Action Center

The STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Action Center works to develop Utah’s workforce of the future by prioritizing STEM education. The program drives research and implementation of STEM education best practices across Utah by coordinating STEM-related activities, creating and coordinating proven STEM education best practices, facilitating educator access to those tools, align public STEM education and higher STEM education activities.


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Student: Kathy Liu
Kathy Liu is a senior and will be graduating from West High School in Salt Lake City, Utah. She has been awarded multiple Grand Awards at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), was the 2017 Utah State Sterling Scholar Winner in Science, and was named the General Sterling Scholar Winner. She believes STEM fields are powerful ways for students to tackle global challenges. She’s excited to continue innovating in the future and expanding STEM opportunities for other students!

Teacher: Dawn McNiel 
Dawn McNiel is a 5th grade teacher at Mountainville Academy in Alpine, Utah. She received her undergraduate in elementary education with a double minor in special education and history and a graduate degree in school leadership from Wilmington University in New Castle, Delaware. “Ms. M&M”, as her student’s know her, has been teaching in Utah for four years. She volunteers in the community at STEM events as a STEM Ambassador for the State of Utah and looks forward to continuing to do so. She is a Facilitator of the Student STEM Action Team and a Team Lead on the faculty STEM Team at Mountainville Academy. As a participant in these Action Teams she has created a school STEM blog, assisted a student in creating a student STEM blog, and created a STEM bulletin board.  She believes heightened awareness of STEM and resources for STEM curriculum will help teachers use the Engineer Design Process in all content areas.

“Ms. M&M” participates in professional development monthly via Edivate, which Mountainville Academy received as a result of the Professional Development Grant she wrote. She recently wrote and received a Sponsorship Grant which allowed her to spearhead Mountainville Academy’s first STEM Expo in March which successfully provided almost 500 participants with STEM experiences. “Ms. M&M” looks forward to the complete implementation of the 1:1 device initiative provided through the Digital Teaching and Learning Grant she assisted writing. She will be attending a Google Boot Camp this summer to support initiative. She is taking the opportunity to receive her STEM endorsement this coming school year as well. This school year she wrote and received the STEM Classroom Grant to provide tangible experiences with negative integers in her Math class. With the help of her Administration and colleagues she will be organizing and creating a STEM Lab for the students of Mountainville Academy this summer.

“Ms. M&M” is dedicated to providing students with an inquiry, project based learning environment where authentic learning can take place. She sees the value of personalized learning, the invaluable use of technology in the classroom, and desires to equip students with 21st century skills. She is grateful for the inspiration and support her three children have been to her as she attended school, graduated, and began her career as an educator.

Counselor: Mark Jones
Mark Jones is a counselor at West Jordan Middle School. On Mondays and Wednesdays he teaches Advanced Programming in their after school STEM program. Mark spent a decade in college working on degrees in English, technical writing, computer science, a master’s in business administration, and a master’s in counseling. He spent several years in Corporate America before making the transition into public education.

Three years ago West Jordan Middle School received a grant to start an after school STEM program. Mark provides curriculum and professional development for the students and teachers. He spends four hours a week educating students on how to make apps for their iPhones & iPads. Mark has run a summer STEM program the past two years for students in Jordan School District. He plays an active role in looking for additional funding to keep these programs going.

Mentor: Jill Wood
Jill Wood is the Day Camp Director for the YMCA of Northern Utah in Weber County. Jill has been with the Y for over seven years, starting in after school programs before creating and expanding full-day Summer Day Camps throughout Ogden. In 2013, she oversaw the opening of the Y’s first full-day camp in Weber County, serving 40 campers, and has since grown the department to include four camps, serving over 325 campers. Last year, in partnership with Weber State University, the Y opened the first STEM Summer Day Camp for K-6 students, offering six weeks of STEM-focused camp and providing nearly $15,000 in financial assistance. In 2017, the STEM Camp will grow to include K-9 students and will operate for 10 weeks, continuing to provide financial assistance to make these services available to families of all income levels.
In addition to her work on the local level, Jill also works for the YMCA of the USA, providing technical assistance to Y’s throughout the country that are seeking to implement and improve STEM in their youth programs. She also works as a project coordinator for Y-USA in helping to create and develop an observation tool to assess gender equity in co-ed STEM settings. Jill is also a state trainer for Click2Science and the National Afterschool Association, helping to pilot a training model for teaching youth providers STEM facilitation skills. These projects have given Jill extensive exposure to all the great work happening in the nation around STEM, and have taught her the value that comes from helping young people learn how to think critically.

Principal/Administrator: John Donley
John Donley has a real passion for STEM Education. He has taught Technology and Engineering courses in grades 7-12 for 10 years and is currently the career and technical education (CTE) coordinator over the technology and engineering programs in Weber School District. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University and his master’s degree from Utah State University, both in technology and engineering education. He is actively involved in the International Technology and Engineering Teacher Association, which promotes STEM education across the globe. John started his Weber School District’s high school VEX Robotics club and has qualified a team for the VEX Robotics World Championships for five years. He loves working with the students and watching them succeed. John’s passion for STEM Education carries home to his wife and children. His wife is a certified teacher and coaches an elementary VEX IQ robotics team, which his oldest daughter competes on. They have also qualified for the VEX World Championships this year. His younger daughter and son cannot wait until they are old enough to compete in robotics. John also loves camping, hiking, and many other outdoors activities with his family.

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