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High School Chemistry Teachers Honored

by Linda Wang
July 23, 2012 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 90, Issue 30

Credit: Linda Wang
Pleninger (from left), Pezzi, Grunden, and Martínez.
A photograph of Carol Pleninger, Kara Pezzi, Eric Grunden, and Judith Martínez.
Credit: Linda Wang
Pleninger (from left), Pezzi, Grunden, and Martínez.

Four American Chemical Society members were among the 97 science and math teachers honored in June with the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics & Science Teaching, which is presented annually to outstanding K–12 science and mathematics teachers from across the U.S.

The ACS member recipients are Eric Grunden, a former chemistry teacher at Raleigh Charter High School in North Carolina; Judith Martínez, a chemistry teacher at Colegio Católico Notre Dame High School in Caguas, P.R.; Kara Pezzi, a chemistry teacher at Appleton East High School in Wisconsin; and Carol Pleninger, a chemistry teacher at Havre High School in Montana.

“These teachers are the best of the best, and they stand as excellent examples of the kind of leadership we need in order to train the next generation of innovators and help this country get ahead,” President Barack Obama said in an award announcement.

The teachers were honored during a ceremony in Washington, D.C., on June 28. The winners each receive $10,000 from the National Science Foundation to be used at their discretion.

Receiving this award “is a validation that what you’re doing does make a difference,” Pleninger says. “Our world is changing so quickly and so drastically, and as educators we have a humongous challenge ahead of us to keep up with that change if we’re going to prepare our students for the world they’re facing.”

Martínez agrees. “For us to be competitive in the future, we have to stay up with the science and the math. Those two areas are essential for developing the kind of society that we would like to have in the future, and science is the answer to most of our problems,” she says.

“I want to change the whole paradigm that chemistry is hard, because it’s what life is built on, and people just have to be aware that everybody needs to be scientifically literate; they have to make decisions in their lives, and having that science background will make sure these kids can make those decisions,” Pezzi says.

“One of the most important things that I can do as a teacher is to enable STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math] opportunities for students, to convince them that to be a scientist you don’t have to have a specially folded brain,” Grunden says. “It’s something that anybody can achieve, and it’s just a matter of having a good teacher.”

Linda Wang compiles this section. Announcements of awards may be sent to



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