March 28, 2019
USC teacher honored for promoting STEM education
An Upper St. Clair School District teacher has been named one of three K–12 educators to receive the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Foundation Educator Achievement Awards. Gifted education teacher Patricia Palazzolo is being honored for her efforts to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.
“Educators have a profound effect on the future––we all remember our favorite teachers, who taught us to see exciting possibilities in challenges,” Jim Maser, AIAA Foundation chair, said. “These winners have inspired their students to reach for more and see a world full of fun challenges to solve. We are grateful for their dedication. Their influence on their students today will ripple out in ways we can only imagine.”
This year’s honorees each received $5,000 for themselves as well as $5,000 for their respective schools. Ms. Palazzolo was nominated by former student Matt Vernacchia. Matt is currently pursuing a doctorate in aerospace engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he develops rocket propulsion systems for small, fast aircraft.
At Matt’s request, letters of support were written by Ms. Palazzolo’s Upper St. Clair colleagues Connie Gibson, gifted education teacher, and Dr. Tim Wagner, associate principal for program planning and innovation, as well as former student Amy Kaminski. Amy serves as program executive for prizes and challenges at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. In an April 2018 article, Amy talked about the important role Ms. Palazzolo played in cultivating her interest in astronomy and space.
In his letter of support, Dr. Wagner offers a unique and comprehensive perspective. Dr. Wagner has the distinction of having interacted with Ms. Palazzolo first as one of her middle and high school students, later as a teaching partner, and currently as an administrative supervisor in the high school.
“Long before ‘STEM’ was a buzz acronym in education, Ms. Palazzolo had students from lower socio-economic schools conducting dissolved oxygen tests in a nearby creek or seeking out a local professor of medicine who would facilitate a hands-on surgery on live rats with her class,” Dr. Wagner said. “Making connections and serving learners through STEM is something that — though often immeasurable in the moment — has produced thousands of graduates over her 43-year career in education who can link their experiences as ‘Mrs. P’s’ student to their own passion in STEM or related fields.”
After teaching in Augusta, Ga. and at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, Ms. Palazzolo joined the Upper St. Clair faculty in 1986. Proudly, she has taught in every USC school and every grade level from 2-12 as a member of the social studies, world language, science and special education departments.
“The best part is that ‘my kids’ who are out doing amazing things in the world continue to give back to my current kids – serving as excellent resources and creating great opportunities,” she said.
As an example Ms. Palazzolo cited the following: “Fort Couch students were able to create an experiment to fly on the shuttle with John Glenn because former student Amy Kaminski – then a student at Cornell University – heard from a grad student with whom she was attending a special program that he would have a ‘little extra space’ in an experiment he was flying and was musing that maybe there was ‘a teacher out there somewhere’ who could think of something students could do with that space. I received the call from Amy . . . and several months later, our group of middle schoolers was at the launch watching their sea-monkey eggs and chia pet seeds go up in orbit with John Glenn!”
A graduate of the State University of New York – Brockport, Ms. Palazzolo holds undergraduate degrees in history, with an emphasis in Asian studies, and French along with a minor in anthropology. She completed her master’s degree in secondary education at Duquesne University. In addition to serving as a gifted education teacher, Ms. Palazzolo is the high school’s World Affairs Club sponsor and KDKA Hometown High Q coach.
Ms. Palazzolo was one of 100 teacher finalists for the acclaimed Teacher in Space Program in 1986. She has served on the Pennsylvania State Future Problem Solving Board, the evaluation Committee of the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Sciences, and is a past advisory board member of the Carnegie Science Center. In 2012, she was selected for the MIT Alumni Association Inspirational Teacher Award.
The other two winners of the 2019 AIAA Foundation Educator Achievement Award include Charlotte Cook, young astronaut specialist at Carver Magnet School in Little Rock, Ark.; and Megan L. Tucker, STEAM specialist at Hillsboro Charter Academy in Hillsboro, Va. The three teachers will be recognized with a crystal apple at the AIAA Aerospace Spotlight Awards Gala in Washington, D.C.
The AIAA Foundation Educator Achievement Award, presented biennially in odd-numbered years, recognizes K–12 educators for outstanding contributions to the continued study of STEM subjects among America’s youth. Since 1997, the award has honored more than 65 educators from throughout the United States. View the list of past recipients.