When Etna Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Melissa Bell was an undergrad majoring in environmental science, she dreamt of using her degree to help improve the environment.
Tuesday, Aug. 13, some of that dream came true when she was awarded the first Licking County STEM Educator of the Year award sponsored by The Works: Ohio Center for History, Art & Technology, Boeing, and State Farm.
The honor, which recognizes teachers who excel in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, was presented to Bell during the annual Licking County Chamber of Commerce's awards dinner at the Longaberger Golf Club.
Bell received an original glass award hand-crafted at The Works and $1,000 for use in her classroom.
"This award was established because it's so important to recognize and thank teachers who integrate STEM education into their classroom in fun and innovative ways," said Marcia Downes, managing director at The Works.
The STEM Educator of the Year award recognizes a teacher who excels by engaging students in STEM education both in the classroom and in the community through innovative, inquiry-based programs that address real-world issues.
Bell along with several other accomplished Licking County teachers completed the rigorous application process.
"I'm really appreciative of the opportunity to be recognized," Bell said.
"I always want to impact change in the environment."
Downes said Bell was selected because of her exemplary ability to integrate programs that teach children how to give back to and protect their environment.
"It's about getting them out into our community," Bell said.
She started an outdoor classroom at Etna Elementary School and the Eco-Warriors Club, which meets after school to learn about the environment and makes contributions to the outdoor classroom.
Bell also organizes field trips for her students to explore local habitats including Hagy Farm and the Cumberland Trails Golf Course wetlands.
Bell is working with the Licking County Soil & Water Conservation District for a recertification in Project Wild and Aquatic to help the outdoor classroom earn recognition as a Wild School Site through the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
Bell said Charles Hagy's family always welcomes her students to explore the family farm and learn about agriculture and livestock.
"Some of these kids have never set foot on a farm," she said.
Bell said she also invites her students' parents to join classes and discuss how they integrate science, technology, engineering, or mathematics-or a combination thereof-into their careers.
And, she's introduced her students to geocaching, whereby a global position system device helps students locate hidden containers, as well as Project Noah, an application to explore and document wildlife.
No matter the subject, Bell said she appreciates local businesses and organizations such as The Works, Boeing, and State Farm, who actively support education.
She said she hopes those businesses and more will continue to do so.
Bell said she believes it is in everyone's best interest.
"Our students are going to be their employees in the future," she said.