Meet the 2012 HEA Reunion Workshop Participants

Arizona | Florida | Hawaii | Illinois | Indiana | New York | Ohio | Oregon | Puerto Rico | Texas | Wisconsin

Eric Santos   Eric Santos
Chicago 2010

Eric Santos began teaching in the Chicago Public Schools, where he taught 6th and 7th grade math and science, while also coaching basketball, soccer, and his school’s chess team. He completed his Masters of Education from National-Louis University in 2008, then relocated with his family to Arizona. Since then Eric has taught 7th grade science, coached basketball, ran the school Chess Club, began an Astronomy Club, and hosted a variety of Star Parties. He enjoys spending his free time traveling, golfing, basketballing, reading, astronomying, and attempting to entertain his now 4-year-old daughter. He enjoys poetry, rainy days, and long walks in the park. None of which are easy to come by in Phoenix, AZ.


Pamela Whiffen   Pamela Whiffen
Alaska 2009

Pamela Whiffen was born in Williamsburg, VA becoming the first American-born child in a family who had just immigrated from England. She spent her earliest years as a resident of the Colonial Williamsburg tour and lived in the Coke-Garrett house while her father was the architectural historian and author of many books for both the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and later, the MIT Press. While she was still very young, her family moved to Arizona where she has lived, with only minor interruptions, ever since. She attended a private, English school until 7th grade and adored learning multiple aspects of a subject. She began writing news articles as a teenager and helped proofread her father's 16+ books. In high school she was a Hugh O'Brien Leadership Scholar and attended the Arizona State University Barrett Honors College which she still remains active with as a third reader for honor theses. After graduating with two undergraduate degrees from Arizona State, she attended the University of Arizona School of Law . After many years as a sales representative, she re enrolled in the Arizona State University Postbac Program for Teachers and earned her teaching certificate and her Masters in Secondary Education. She continued on to earn her Reading Specialist certification, her certification as a specialist in English Language Learners, and her Gifted Specialist Endorsement. During her 19 years of teaching middle school, she designed her own highly successful cross-disciplinary enrichment course called Futurequest centered upon career development in science, math, engineering, and technology. She currently teaches Astronomy and Physical Science at Carl Hayden Community High School, one of the largest Hispanic serving high schools in the US, and is an instructor in the Paradise Valley Community College Kids College Center for Advanced Academic Programming. Among her many responsibilities, she has also been the lead academic advisor for a multiyear NSF grant aimed at increasing the involvement of women in math, science, and engineering. She has, as well, been involved for a number of years in space science education as a NASA Solar System Ambassador, a National Space Biology Research fellow, a Messenger Fellow, a GRACE Fellow, a Heliophysics Ambassador, a presenter for the Sally Ride Science Festivals , a presenter-participant in Penn State's Summer Outreach Program for Teachers, an Educator Ambassador for the National Science Digital Library, and a Master Teacher presenting sustainability curriculum for the non-profit organization, Facing the Future. Finally, as NASA Educator Ambassador for the High-Energy Astrophysics Division for the last 12 years, she has traveled extensively to conduct teacher workshops and presentations on NASA's space-based telescopes. Married 35 years with two kids, she describes herself as, "a perpetual student who is endlessly fascinated with the beauty and complexity of our Universe."

Esther Hoffman   Esther Hoffman
Chicago 2011

Ms. Hoffman has a B.S. in Elementary Education and a Master's of Science in TESOL. Areas of certification include Middle School Integrated Curriculum and Gifted Education. Ms. Hoffman has taught Math & Science since she began teaching. She is currently teaching science in a Tile I middle school in Miami, FL as well a teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages in an adult program in the evenings. Involvement in local pre-service teacher programs is an important part of giving back to the community. Next year she will teach in the Science, Technology, & Investigative Research Magnet (STIR) that infuses the current trends in STEM Education in the classroom.



Julie Sear   Deborah Valdivia-Zwolinski
Chicago 2010

Deborah Valdivia-Zwolinski was born in Chicago and relocated to Florida while attending college. She currently resides in Cutler Bay, Florida, a city just south of Miami. She teaches 6th and 7th grade gifted and advance science at Riviera Middle School in Miami, Florida. She holds a BA from the University of Miami, a MS from Barry University, and is completing a double Doctorate at Nova Southeastern University. She is a member of various science and technology professional organizations. Presently she is developing her second magnet program for the district, this program will emphasize Science Technology and Investigative Research (STIR) and will promote being green by operating as a paperless class. Her hobbies include scuba diving, kayaking, astronomy, and Web design. Her educational philosophy is that students learn by doing and her goal is to make science fun and exciting for all students.


Maggie Prevenas   Maggie Prevenas
Chicago 2010

Maggie Prevenas is a STEM resource teacher for the Hawaii Department of Education on the island of Maui, Hawaii. She has a Masters Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has taught science and computer technology in Wisconsin, Oregon, and Hawaii. An appointment as NOAA Teacher-at-Sea/PolarTREC teacher for 6 weeks in the Bering Sea during the 2007 spring ice melt and subsequent algae bloom has resulted in a keen focus on teaching her students lessons connected to global climate change and helped create collaborations between Hawaiian and Alaskan indigenous students. Mrs. Prevenas continues learning and sharing through national and state networks. She is a NASA Endeavor STEM Awardee and 2011 graduate, a NOAA Climate Steward, a University of Hawaii- Heliophysics Mentor Teacher, and National Board Certified teacher. Mrs. Prevenas welcomes collaborations between her native Hawaiian students and other indigenous students regarding culture, science and a native way of knowing. Please email her at to make a connection!

Eulene Carter   Eulene Carter
Chicago 2011

Hola, I can smile and say everyday is a new rewarding challenge after 25 years of dedicated service with the Chicago Public School System. I am living my dream, I am a teacher and I love my job. I received my National Board of Certification (2002), Masters of Education and Administrative Certification from Lewis University, Romeoville, IL (1999), Bachelor of Science in Education from Eastern Illinois University, Charleston, IL (1974). I graduated from Wendell Phillips H.S. (1974) and Doolittle Elementary, (1970), Chicago, IL. I am proud to say I am a product of the Chicago Public School system and I had great teachers and role models. Presently I am completing a science endorsement for Middle School endorsement in Science. I provide test preparation instruction to prepare student teachers and teachers for the ITBS at Roosevelt University and the CTU. I am an instructor for the AFT for the course, Instructional Strategies that Work for all Disciplines and LSC teacher representative. I am a teacher of the 21st century, dedicated to my profession and proud to be a teacher, serving the children, parents, teachers and families of Chicago, a mother of three grown adults and grandmother of one. I accept the challenge to serve and I believe in extending learning beyond the classroom, by reflecting and integrating, collaborating, cooperating and investing in the future through continuous learning.

Scott Chapelle   Scott Chapelle
Chicago 2010

I have been teaching for 24 years in both Chicago and in the southern/southwest suburbs. I recieved my Undergraduate (BA) from Concordia University in River Forest, IL. I later earned my Masters degree (MA) in Environmental Studies and Geography from Northeastern IL University. My teaching career has been spent mostly in the middle school grades (6-8). I am equally endorsed in math and science with teaching certificates for K-12 in Illinois and Virginia.

Katie Duff   Katie Duff
Chicago 2011

Katie Duff is a scientist and educator teaching 8th grade science in a south suburb of Chicago, IL. She was inspired to become a junior high science teacher after having been shown the wonders of science and catching the enthusiasm shown by her 7th and 8th grade science teachers. Katie hopes to inspire a new generation of scientists by providing students with hands on learning opportunities and the skills needed to gain access to any science related subject they choose. She is an active member of the community, involving herself in youth ministry opportunities at her church. Katie holds a Bachelors of Arts degree from Augustana College in Elementary Education with a middle school endorsement, has been recognized by ISBE's Those Who Excel program, and was a featured video for The Museum of Science and Industry's Month at the Museum contest.

Jen Lewin   Jen LeWin
Chicago 2010

Jen Lewin holds a Bachelors of Biology and a Masters of Education. She is the science lead and middle school science teacher at Stewart Elementary in the Chicago Public School District. Jen has loved science as long as she can remember and strives to nurture that same passion in her students. In the summer of 2011 she participated in the Honeywell Educators @ Space Academy program in Huntsville, Alabama. Attending the Academy allowed her to show her students that lifelong learning can be a total blast!

Debbie McNulty   Debbie McNulty
Chicago 2011

I have been a science teacher for grades five through eight for three years at St. Edmund Parish School in Oak Park. Prior to that, I taught for one year at Hauser Jr. High School in Riverside, and for six years at St. Priscilla School in Chicago. I received a B. A. in Elementary Education at Northeastern Illinois University. I received a M.A. in Reading Education from Concordia University. I became interested in teaching science because I wanted to understand how the world works, and because I have a natural curiosity about my surroundings. I always look for learning experiences in everything I do and everywhere I go. I always look for the science lesson that exists all around me.

Karen Swacker   Karen Swacker
Chicago 2010

Karen Swacker received her Bachelor of Science Degree in Elementary Education from Governors State University. She has taught both self-contained elementary classes and junior high science classes. After six years of full time teaching, Karen returned to Governors State University to earn her Master's Degree in Education in Curriculum and Instruction. She currently teaches junior high science at Rickover Junior High School in Sauk Village, Illinois.

Linda Thompson   Linda Thompson
Chicago 2011

I have taught many ages and grade levels in both Wisconsin and Illinois. My current position began as a primary/intermediate science teacher presenting science concepts off a cart and running Star Lab programs. I have evolved to District Gifted Teacher/Coordinator and now use science and social studies to "drive" the curriculum for my gifted students. What I have learned over the years is that all students of all ability levels can love science! When not teaching, I enjoy traveling, cooking, and animals. Of course, everywhere that I visit, I'm always scouting out "cool" science places. Recent trips found me visiting the Blackrock Castle Observatory in Cork, Ireland and Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff. There are fun places to learn all over.

John Harsh   John Harsh
Chicago 2010

John Harsh - 1989 Graduate of Purdue University Lafayette BA Elementary Education with Secondary Science Endorsement. As a teacher with Gary (IN) Community School Corporation since 1990, John has taught Elementary (regular & high ability) and Middle School (regular, at-risk, & high ability). Currently, John works as Director of Outdoor Education at Deep River Outdoor Education Center, which is part of Gary Community School Corporation. John has served on several curriculum development committees and has worked with many community groups, universities and national organizations to develop educational projects / units.

Shannon Hudson   Shannon Hudson
Chicago 2010

Shannon Hudson was born in Crawfordsville, Indiana, and after several moves to Ohio, Alabama, and Illinois, she finally landed in Shelbyville, Indiana. After graduating high school, she attended Purdue University for her undergraduate degree, attended IUPUI for her gifted endorsement, and finally Indiana Wesleyan for her master’s degree. She began her teaching career in Kokomo, Indiana, teaching juvenile delinquents every subject except social studies. She currently teaches 6th and 7th grade science and health at Tuttle Middle School in the city where she started life- Crawfordsville, Indiana. She has sponsored activities such as National Junior Honor Society, Odyssey of the Mind, Drain Painting, and Chemistry Day. She recently authored the Agriculture Webquest for the Mid American CropLife Association. Under her direction, her 7th grade students created an interactive CD focusing on the Sugar Creek watershed of Montgomery County with the assistance of a Rose-Hulman PRISM grant. Her students also shaped the Kindergarten Connection, a program that prepared 7th grade students to individually teach kindergarten students science concepts once a month. Her students have also designed and installed 4 exhibits for the local Carnegie Museum. With many other grants, her students are creating the 67 acre Sugar Creek Nature Park in Montgomery County. She currently serves as secretary for IMLEA Advisory Board member and an at-large member of the Hoosier Association of Science Teachers Advisory Board, and is president of the Montgomery County Carnegie Museum.

New York    
WISE   Kenneth Huff
Chicago 2010

Kenneth L. Huff, a National Board Certified Teacher in early adolescence science is presently a grade 6 science teacher at Mill Middle School in Williamsville, New York. His responsibilities at Mill Middle include coordinating staff development. Mr. Huff also taught at Cleveland Hill Middle School in Cheektowaga, New York from 1993 through 1999. He served as team leader during both appointments—totaling sixteen years of service.

Beyond his teaching responsibilities, Mr. Huff is involved in various synergistic activities including a member of the Writing Team for the Next Generation Science Standards, an appointment to The National Academies Teacher Advisory Council, President of The Association of Presidential Awardees in Science Teaching, and a member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Space Systems Technical Committee. He served as Chair of the NSTA Aerospace Programs Advisory Board where he initiated and led the effort to develop a national position statement on aerospace education.

Sarah Freundlich   Sarah Freundlich
Chicago 2011

Sarah Freundlich is currently a 5th and 6th grade science teacher in the Lexington Local Schools in Mansfield. Ohio. She graduated with an undergraduate degree from Wittenberg University in 1985 and a Masters of Ed from MVNU in 2003. She has been married for 25 years and is the mother of four children.

Michelle Lillo   Michelle Lillo
Chicago 2011

I received a B.S. in education from Akron University and a MEd. from Ashland University.
Recently, I participated in NASA Teaching from Space in Houston, TX and was given the opportunity to fly my experiment on the Zero G plane. I have also taken advantage of many opportunities to enhance my own learning in science through programs and course work offered in the summers. Through these courses I have had the privilege of meeting educators from all across our country, who have shown me different perspectives of how education works.

Teaching involves a bit of "acting" at times to get your point across. In the past years I have been involved with local community theater, which gives me an opportunity to hone my teaching skills! To relieve stress, I have been jogging for 28 years (but not continuously!!).

Laura Orr   Laura Orr
Alaska 2009

Laura Orr is a scientist and educator teaching grades 6-12 in a very small rural school district in Ukiah, located in Eastern Oregon. Laura hopes to inspire a new generation of scientists by providing students with the technology and leadership needed to gain access to any science related subject that interests them. She is also an active member of the community, involving herself as the director of the local ski/snowboard club, ski instructor at a nearby resort, advisor to the School Student Bodyand Leadership Organization, certified scorer for Oregon State Standardized Test in both math problem solving and writing, a member of the Ukiah Preschool Education Organization, and the community garden club. Laura holds a Bachelors of Physics degree from Eastern Oregon University, a masters degree in Science Education from Western Governors University, and is currently pursuing certification as a meteorologist and masters credentials in Upper Atmospheric Physics.

Puerto Rico    
Elizabeth Torres-Rodriguez   Elizabeth Torres-Rodriguez
Alaska 2009

I'm from the Sunny Island, Puerto Rico. I'm a middle and high school teacher in San Juan, Puerto Rico. I have been teaching for eighteen years. I teach earth sciences to 9th grade, chemistry to 11th grade and environmental sciences to 12th grade - a lot of work here, Ah! I have a Masters degree in Environmental Sciences from Medical Science Campus, University of Puerto Rico, a Graduate Certification on Meteorology Sciences from Penn State University and now I'm in the third year in my PhD in Environmental Sciences. I'm also working on the Puerto Rico Space Grant-NASA in the University of Puerto Rico, as an affiliate for educational programs for the Puerto Rico Department of Education. We have a project with public schools around the Island, and I'm the Weather Station Coordinator. Our project is a part of a study on Heat Island Phenomena in Puerto Rico and we collaborate with the National Climate Center in Colorado and NASA Climate Change Office. Our goal is that all schools on the Island had a weather station, and doing training for teachers and students. Now I'm teaching a weather course for teachers thru the American Meteorology Society. For the past three years I have prepared summer workshops for teachers, last two years the theme was related as Sahara Dust and the Impact in the Caribbean, this year was the Caribbean Ecosystems and the Impact of Climate Change.

I live in the north part of the Island (Arecibo), my husband (Angel Hernandez) is an Instructor Pilot of Blackhawk's in the Florida National Guard, he is now in Jordan, and he was the last helicopter pilot of US to leave Iraqi land. I'm very proud of him. We don’t have kids but we have two wonderful cats: Camilla Victoria and Bunny Lou, my two good friends now. My passions are being with my family, traveling and enjoying the outdoors of my beautiful Island.

I'm so excited to participate in this workshop in Chicago and see all the people that were with me in Alaska, this means too much me. I have always been excited to teach science and learn along with my students. I am passionate about immersing teachers in scientific inquiry experiences.

Nancy Fiegel   Nancy Fiegel
Alaska 2009

I’m Nancy Fiegel and I currently am an eighth grade science teacher at Space Center Intermediate School which is located on NASA property across from NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. We are a Middle School that has a very diverse culture in the middle of the JSC community. My love for science, in particular Space science began at an early age. I grew up in the shadow of Johnson Space Center and the Apollo era. My Dad worked on the software for the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM). As an eight year old, I remember exactly where I was and what my family was doing when Neil Armstrong took his first step on the Moon. (Yup, I am old) There was no hope for it, I was the science nerd. I participated in science fairs during grade school and middle school, attended science camps as a kid, and when I couldn’t decide what I wanted to be when I grew up, I became a science teacher. As a science teacher, I could do it all! My true passion is being a classroom teacher where I can share the joys and excitement of learning about real science that matters with my students. During the summer months I can be found just about anywhere except at home finding new and updated information to bring back to my kids. I received my bachelor degree from University of Houston and earned my Master of Science Teaching from Rice University. I had the opportunity to be a member of the first HEA group from Alaska. This is my second year to be an HEA Teacher Mentor. I love this program and all it has to offer. I have three grown children and two very inquisitive grand daughters who are eight and nine as well as a brand new granddaughter! Life is VERY Good!

Molly Nipper   Molly Nipper
Alaska 2009

Hi my name is Molly Nipper. I am a Physics High School teacher at Memorial High School in Spring Branch ISD. Prior to being a High School teacher, I taught 7th grade science in Fort Bend ISD for 6 years.

I received my Master of Science Teaching degree in Physics and Astronomy on May 2010 at Rice University. My undergaduate studies was in Psychology/Biology at the University of Houston.

My goal is to give my students every opportunity to participate in STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) related events outside of school. For the past two years, I have taken my students to Sally Ride Science Festival at Rice University. I have co-sponsored Science Olympiad.

I not only enjoy teaching my students but also my fellow teachers. I have presented at conferences and professional development trainings. At NASA Johnson Space Center Houston, I presented at the SEEC (Science Exploration Educators Conference) 2010 with fellow HEA, Maureen Adams and Julie Taylor, workshop titled "Totally Blasted". I have also trained other teachers in Fort Bend ISD professional development session: CSI (Collaborative Science Initiative).

During the summers, I enjoy spending time with my family going to various destinations. I also volunteer at my church’s children’s ministry. I have taught summer Vacation Bible Study for 1st and 2nd graders. I have also been fortunate to teach English and Vacation Bible Study classes to orphans in a third world country such as Cambodia in 2010 and the Dominican Republic in 2011.

Lauren Parker   Lauren Parker
Chicago 2011

Lauren Parker teaches science and social studies in Arlington, Texas. She earned her BS and Masters degrees in Education from Texas Christian University. In addition to teaching, Lauren serves as the lead Science Club sponsor where she strives to create young scientists. She has been awarded scholarships from Honeywell Hometown Solutions to attend Educators at Space Academy as well as Educators at Advanced Space Academy where she was one of 16 teachers working together to develop ways to make space come alive for students. Lauren is also a Solar System Ambassador as well as a NASA Explorer School Teacher. When she grows up, Lauren wants to be an astronaut.

Wendy Esch   Wendy Esch
Alaska 2009

Wendy Esch is a science teacher at Shawano Community High School in Shawano, Wisconsin. She has been with the district for 21 years. She teaches Physical Science, Geology, and Astronomy. Ms. Esch grew up in Shawano and always had a strong interest in science. She developed the district’s Physical Science, Astronomy, and Geology curriculum as well as maintains and operates the district’s planetarium.