Shawano teacher receives $3,000 STEM grant

Anhalt 1 of 50 chosen for advocate program
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Pamela Anhalt

Pamela Anhalt, a chemistry teacher at Shawano Community High School, has been chosen by the Society of Science and the Public as one of 50 advocates from across the country to receive a $3,000 grant.

The society said its grant program chooses passionate educators and scientists to expand opportunities for underrepresented and low-income students to help them develop STEM projects that can be entered into science research competitions, which serve as an entryway to higher education and STEM careers.

Each advocate will mentor a cohort of at least three underrepresented students and help them navigate through science research competitions.

Victor Hall, a Society for Science and the Public member, said the mission of the Advocate program is to foster or even spark an interest in science among students.

“The Advocate program is committed to expanding the diversity of students involved with STEM,” Hall said. You see certain segments of students or schools that lack interest in STEM programs and careers, and our goal is to rectify that.”

Hall said Anhalt was chosen as an advocate because she has shown “commitment to working with all types of students, not just the few academic stars.”

“Her students have demonstrated true energy and excitement; she shows that any student has potential,” he said.

Anhalt dismissed the belief many students hold that they are not good at math or science.

“You just have to have the initiative to start a project,” Anhalt said. “The most fulfilling part of my job is to see the look on a student’s face when they realize ‘I can do it.’ This idea for a project is going to be something.’”

Anhalt began her career as a chemistry major and spent time working in the Johnson Controls laboratory in Milwaukee.

She started her path as an educator when she moved back to Shawano and started helping out with her children and their peers’ school science projects.

“The students told me ‘It’s like magic, Mrs. Anhalt,’” Anhalt said.

Anhalt’s experiences within the field helped qualify her as an advocate, Hall said.

“Her positive experiences both within the industry and within education helps her set a well-informed road map for students who are interested in STEM careers,” he said.

The advocate program is committed to showing students what science research competitions actually look like. The element of scientific research that students often miss is that research topics are community based, Hall said.

“When people think of science research competitions, they think either of the cliche baking soda volcano or of something extreme, such as trying to find a cure for cancer,” he said. The reality is that projects center around issues that are important to the community that young people live in, such as research devoted to nutrition or mental health.”

Anhalt said she has begun to see how resources provided by the advocate program have sparked a transformation in her students’ perspectives on scientific research.

“About a year ago, I asked my students ‘How do you use science in your life?’ and none of them had an answer,” Anhalt said. “Now, I see them thinking about how science can be applied to matters relevant to their lived experience. It is awesome to see a student carry out a project that begins as an idea and how they progress using the scientific method to bring that idea to life.”

Anhalt makes connections between what students are learning inside the classroom and the outside world. For example, students use their chemistry knowledge to create soap, which they then have begun to give to other teachers to show appreciation and have sold at sporting events.

Anhalt summarized her mission as an educator as someone who “gives the students an opportunity to say ‘I did this. I made a difference.’ It begins small, but it is amazing to watch their ideas grow.”