USU Geology Alum Receives National Teaching Honor
Tuesday, May. 22, 2018
USU Geology alum Debbie Morgan, center, pictured with her students at Utah's South Sevier High School, was named '2018 Teacher of the Year K-12’ by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. Photo by Chase Christensen.
USU alum Debbie Morgan, second from right, with her students and their ride design entry at USU Physics Day 2018 held May 18, at Utah's Lagoon amusement park. Morgan is the recipient of a number of prestigious teaching honors.
Utah State University alum Deborah Stringham Morgan (’02, Geology) was named 2018 Teacher of the Year (K-12) by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. Selected from a nationwide slate of nominees, Morgan, a science teacher at South Sevier High School in Monroe, Utah, was recognized at a May 20 ceremony during the association’s annual meeting, held this year in Salt Lake City.
The honor is given each year to a teacher “who has demonstrated outstanding leadership in the field of geoscience education,” according to the AAPG website. As an awardee, Morgan receives a $6,000 cash prize, half of which is designated for her school’s use and the remaining half for personal use.
“I am honored and humbled,” says Morgan, who spoke at the ceremony. “I derive joy from my work by inspiring the next generation of geoscientists and ensuring that all students are earth science-literate. This award represents years of support from my family, the teachers and professors that inspired me, my colleagues and administrators, community members and parents and mentor scientists, who volunteer their time in our schools.”
A native of Roy, Utah, Morgan says USU Geology professors Don Fiesinger, former Science Dean, and Joel Pederson were among her most influential mentors.
“At first, I didn’t excel in my studies,” she says. “But Dr. Fiesinger stuck with me, always offering encouragement.”
By the time she was an upperclassman, Morgan was earning straight A’s and the experience, she says, taught her an important lesson she carried into her teaching career.
“Sometimes students don’t believe in themselves and, especially here in a rural community, many don’t have role models who’ve gone to college and succeeded academically,” Morgan says. “Being able to inspire these kids, open their eyes to opportunities, building their confidence – that’s why I teach.”
The 16-year teaching veteran has secured a range of impressive opportunities for her students. In 2017, Morgan was among just 50 educators selected from a national pool of more than 650 applicants to serve as a teacher advisor for the NASA-funded Bringing the Universe to America’s Classrooms initiative. Coordinated by WGBH, Boston’s public television station, the program has enabled Morgan and her students to review weather and climate modules created for the PBS Learning System and provide feedback on how to improve these learning tools for high school students throughout the world.
“It’s been very empowering for my students, who feel like real scientists,” she says. “They’re excited to make a difference in how people learn about science.”
In addition to teaching, Morgan serves as advisor to her school’s STEM Club, in which students are participating in other NASA-funded programs, as well as varied national and international STEM competitions. Two of her students are participating in Caltech’s NASA/IPAC Teacher Archive Research Program this summer.
Along with the accolades from AAPG, Morgan is one of four state finalists (one of two for the secondary science award) for the 2018 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, the highest teaching honor for K-12 STEM teachers given by the United States government. As a state finalist, she’s in the running for a national award, which will be announced in the fall.
Morgan is also among the first cohort of educators selected as Utah Teacher Fellows, a program sponsored by the Hope Street Group and the National Network of State Teachers of the Year. The fellowship, supported by Gov. Gary Herbert, is designed to connect teachers with local and state policymakers to promote positive change in education.
“The response from legislators and the Governor’s Office has been immensely positive,” she says. “Utahns need to know the challenges educators face and the incredible things teachers in our state are doing.”
“Bringing the Universe to a Rural Utah Classroom, Bringing a Rural Utah Classroom to the Universe,” Discovery, Spring 2018
USU Department of Geology
USU College of Science