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OFE News Release

2011 Oklahoma Medal for Excellence Winners Announced

March 1, 2011
OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence announced today the winners of its Oklahoma Medal for Excellence awards honoring five outstanding educators in Oklahoma’s public schools.

The prestigious awards will be presented at the foundation’s 25th annual Academic Awards Banquet on May 21 at the Embassy Suites Hotel and Conference Center in Norman.

Each of the five winners will receive a $5,000 cash prize and a glass “Roots and Wings” sculpture, designed by the late Oklahoma artist Ron Roberts and produced by Jim Triffo of Oklahoma City. Medals are awarded annually to outstanding Oklahoma teachers, one each at the elementary, secondary, community college/regional university and research university levels. In addition, the foundation presents a Medal for Excellence to an exceptional administrator from the elementary or secondary level.

This year’s recipients of the Medals for Excellence in Teaching are: Patsy McIlvain, Horace Mann Elementary School, WOODWARD, elementary level; Susie Stevens Edens, Latta High School, ADA, secondary level; Dr. Wei R. Chen, Department of Engineering and Physics, University of Central Oklahoma; EDMOND, regional university/community college level; and Dr. David Ray, associate professor of political science and dean of the Honors College, University of Oklahoma, NORMAN, research university level. The recipient of the Medal for Excellence in elementary/secondary administration is Cindi Hemm, principal of Eugene Field Elementary School in TULSA.

“We know that education is the best investment Oklahoma can make in its future,” said David L. Boren, founder and chairman of the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence, a non-profit organization that recognizes and encourages academic excellence in the state’s public schools. “By honoring these exceptional educators, we are sending a message that Oklahomans deeply value excellence in public schools and the professionals who have given so much of themselves to enrich the lives of our children.”

Patsy McIlvainPatsy McIlvain, winner of the Oklahoma Medal for Excellence in Elementary Education, teaches fourth grade at Horace Mann Elementary School in Woodward. A National Board Certified teacher with

nearly 30 years of teaching experience, McIlvain creates a learning environment that meets students where

they are and challenges them to succeed. “Patsy McIlvain’s classroom is a safe-haven, a reading room, an art studio, a research laboratory, an exchange for ideas and a magnet for student success,” said Woodward School Board President Roxy Merklin. “Patsy is proof that learning can meet all PASS requirements and still be exciting, engaging and just plain fun.” In designing lesson plans, McIlvain integrates curriculum and incorporates the nine multiple intelligences – from linguistic and mathematical to kinesthetic and musical – to engage students in creative learning experiences. During a science lesson on owls, her students conduct scientific research, read owl-themed literature, work with a local artist to create owl paintings and receive a surprise visit from real owls, courtesy of the Audubon Society. While studying Oklahoma history, McIlvain’s students portray famous Oklahomans, make shields using Native American symbols, write poetry about the state and paint murals of Oklahoma wildlife. Early each school year, McIlvain conducts “Parents as Teachers Night” to help parents understand middle childhood development and discuss ways that they can encourage their children’s learning. Fellow teacher Cindy Brown said McIlvain agonizes over every low score on fourth-grade achievement tests and “collaborates with other teachers to find ways to close the achievement gaps and ensure success for all students.” McIlvain has been named Woodward Teacher of the Year and was an Oklahoma Teacher of the Year finalist. Last year, the Oklahoma Heritage Museum recognized McIlvain as its Oklahoma History Teacher of the Year.

Susie Stevens EdensSusie Stevens Edens, winner of the Medal for Excellence in Secondary Teaching, teaches biology, biotechnology, anatomy and chemistry at Latta High School in Ada. Fueled by a passion for science and teaching, Edens sets high standards for herself and her students, pushing them to go beyond their perceived limits. “One can be certain that she cares about the success of her students because she expects so much of them,” said former student Boaz Vandever, who credits Edens with helping him earn a National Merit Scholarship. Edens said she uses a “less is more” approach to curriculum, giving students time to develop deep understandings of major scientific concepts. She peppers her teaching with inquiry-based activities, student-designed projects and technology tools to give students ownership in their learning. A 32-year teaching veteran, Edens was the first in her district to earn National Board Certification (NBC) and implemented the district’s first course in biotechnology, obtaining grants to purchase high-tech equipment for her classes. She has shared her expertise with fellow teachers as regional leader for the Rural Biotechnology Project and was among a select group of NBC teachers nationwide selected to share their teaching techniques as part of the Digital Edge Project co-sponsored by Apple Corp. As sponsor for Academic Team and science fair competitions, Edens has guided many of her students to win state, national and international honors. She has been recognized with numerous national teaching awards, including the $25,000 Christa McAuliffe Fellowship, the U.S. Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science, and the Toyota Tapestry Award. She was one of five international finalists for the Intel Excellence in Teaching Award and was named to the All USA Teacher Team by “USA Today.”

Dr. Wei R. ChenThe recipient of the Oklahoma Medal for Excellence in Teaching at a Regional University/Community College is Dr. Wei R. Chen, professor of engineering and physics and assistant dean of the College of Mathematics and Science at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond. Chen helped establish Oklahoma’s first and only Biomedical Engineering Program for undergraduates at UCO and served as its first program director from 2000 to 2006. He has gained international recognition for the development of laser immunotherapy for the treatment of late-stage, metastatic cancers. Chen uses his laboratory research as an extension of his teaching, involving students from high school to the post-doctoral level in life-saving cancer research. UCO Provost William Radke describes Chen as “a teacher at heart.” Chen has developed transformative learning strategies that are rooted in his Chinese heritage, including teaching according to a student’s ability, using an interdisciplinary approach to teaching and research, and using inquiry-based learning to help students make discoveries through real-world research and experience. Chen is the recipient of UCO’s highest teaching honor, the Neely Teaching Award, and has been recognized for his creativity as an Oklahoma DaVinci Fellow. He is the recipient of numerous national honors, including the 2008 U.S. Professor of the Year Award from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education and the 2011 U.S. Fulbright Award. One former student praised Chen as a role model who teaches that, “Contributing to society and the human race is a higher order of our education and career.” In Chen’s classroom and lab, students learn about the impact of their learning and research through the experiences of treating cancer patients. “I challenge my students to save or change at least one person’s life for the better in their career,” Chen said.

Dr. David RayDr. David Ray, associate professor of political science and dean of the Honors College at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, has been named winner of the 2011 Oklahoma Medal for Excellence in Teaching at a Research University. Ray’s current teaching interests include Congressional oversight of U.S. intelligence agencies, U.S. foreign policy toward diverse Islamic societies, the politics of U.S. economic policy and socioeconomic change in less developed countries. He has also taught many introductory government courses for freshmen. He is the recipient of numerous OU teaching awards, including the OU Student Association Award for Outstanding Teacher and the “Most Inspiring Professor” award from the Student Athletes Association. Former graduate student Shad Satterthwaite recalls Ray’s lectures being so engaging that students would invite friends and even parents to attend. Over his 37 years as a college teacher, Ray has developed several guiding principles, including getting to know his students individually, bringing enthusiasm to the subject matter, setting high standards for achievement, and asking lots of questions to stimulate classroom discussion. “College teaching is not simply conveying a body of knowledge and it is certainly not preaching,” Ray said. “It is demonstrating by one’s own example the true joy of learning.” Ray has also found that the simple act of giving the right book to a student is a very effective teaching method. He has given away thousands of books to students and several years ago began organizing informal reading groups free-of-charge for students. After becoming Honors College dean, Ray expanded the reading groups and funded the books primarily through support from private donors. There are now more than 30 small reading groups, on subjects ranging from science to history, and Ray still makes time to moderate more than half of them.

Cindi HemmThe winner of the Medal for Excellence in Elementary/Secondary Administration is Cindi Hemm, principal of Eugene Field Elementary School in Tulsa. The school had been built in 1922 and was “falling apart” when Hemm arrived in 2003. Located in a high-crime, high-poverty neighborhood, the school was surrounded by three housing projects and “looked more like a prison than a place of learning,” Hemm said. Of the 170 students who attended the school, 95 percent had parents who had not graduated from high school, and 75 percent had a parent who was incarcerated. Hemm began re-inventing the school by creating a “culture of kindness and caring” and replaced half the teaching staff with those who shared her vision for putting students first. Under Hemm’s leadership, the school implemented a year-round schedule; instituted school uniforms, which were donated by sponsors; and became a member of the A+ Schools network to infuse art and humanities into the curriculum. Hemm reached out to parents and the community, increasing community sponsors from three to 30. Eugene Field students now participate in school-based mentoring programs and more than 26 after-school program offerings, ranging from scouting and sports to music and cooking. The school also piloted a Global Gardens program to teach science through organic gardening and provide healthy produce to the community. Under Hemm’s direction, student attendance has grown from 170 to 430, and academic scores have risen from the lowest in Tulsa to some of the highest in the district. Former Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor praised Hemm as a “best-in-class” leader. “She took the concept of community school and embraced it with open arms with a vision to make sure each of her kids had what they needed to learn, all day, every day.”

In addition to presenting the Medal for Excellence awards, the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence will honor 100 of Oklahoma’s top public high school seniors as Academic All-Staters at its May 21 banquet. The event will feature a keynote address by New York City mayor and business leader Michael Bloomberg.

The Academic Awards Banquet is open to the public, with admission priced at $50. The awards ceremony will be televised statewide by OETA, the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority, at 8 p.m. May 28. For more information, call the Foundation for Excellence office at (405) 236-0006 or visit its website at

Founded in 1985, the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence is a statewide, non-profit organization dedicated to recognizing and encouraging academic excellence in Oklahoma’s public schools. Through its Academic Awards Program, the foundation has provided more than $3.6 million in scholarships and cash awards to honor outstanding graduating seniors as Academic All-Staters and exceptional educators as Medal for Excellence winners.