Four recent graduates at Wisconsin schools win teaching awards

McKinnon, 2012 alumna, receives Project Lead the Way national honor
​Jerry Poling | March 15, 2019

Graduates from UW-Stout’s School of Education who teach in Wisconsin recently received a national and three state teaching awards.

Devin McKinnon of New Berlin Eisenhower middle school/high school was named a Project Lead the Way National Teacher of the Year. Her sister and colleague at New Berlin, Dana Jo McLaren, received a Wisconsin Technology Education Association award.

Also, Ashley Tessmer of Wisconsin Rapids and Charlene Van Etten of Hayward were named Herb Kohl Educational Foundation award-winners.

UW-Stout alumna Devin McKinnon received a Project Lead the Way national Teacher of the Year award recently.McKinnon, a 2012 UW-Stout graduate in technology education, has taught at New Berlin Eisenhower since 2013. She also earned a Master of Business Administration in STEM leadership in 2018 from the Milwaukee School of Engineering.

“This award validates my hard work, and I am excited to continue my adventure of meeting the learning needs of more students,” McKinnon said. “I have strived to become the best STEM educator for my community. I am proud that I get to use Project Lead the Way resources to inspire, engage and empower students.”

McKinnon, who grew up in Eagan, Minn., focuses on a classroom environment that “gives students the opportunity to take ownership of their own learning through strategic risk-taking. I make my strongest impact by ensuring my students get to experience the learning with problem-solving.”

Technology in her classroom includes 3D printers and laser engravers. “The best part about my job is I get the opportunity to embrace the future. I get to invest my energy and passions into preparing students for a futuristic workforce,” McKinnon said.

She called her UW-Stout experience a “career accelerator” because the applied learning environment, faculty and staff challenged her. New Berlin’s teaching staff has four UW-Stout graduates, she said.

“Stout taught me that it’s OK to make mistakes and how to learn from my mistakes. Stout gave me the skills to be a passionate educator. Stout also had professors who actually cared about what I was learning and not learning. They took the time to pause and work with me individually to address my content and skills misconceptions,” she said.

Along with McKinnon, five other teachers were honored, two from California and one each from Missouri, New York and Texas. They were recognized recently in Indianapolis at the PLTW national conference, attended by about 1,000 educators.

They were recognized for “strong alignment to PLTW’s mission; exceptional commitment to students; school leadership; and meaningful involvement in PLTW curriculum, assessment and professional development,” according to a news release.

Project Lead the Way, involving more than 11,500 schools in every state, provides teacher training and resources to help students develop skills in computer science, engineering and biomedical science.

McLaren, a 2015 UW-Stout graduate in technology education, received the WTEA Award of Excellence. It is given each year to “recognize individual technology educators who are dedicated to providing quality programs at the local level.”

The award was presented at the WTEA conference in Wisconsin Dells.

WTEA advocates for the “advancement of technology education by promoting relevant curriculum, communicating information, and networking with leaders in education, business and industry, according to its website.

Tessmer, a 2006 UW-Stout graduate in marketing and business education, and Van Etten, a 2010 graduate in early childhood education, were two of 100 teachers statewide to receive the Kohl Foundation Teacher Fellowship award.

Tessmer, who also earned a master’s degree from UW-Stout in 2010, teaches at Wisconsin Rapids High School. Van Etten teaches kindergarten in the Hayward school district..

Teachers are recognized for “their superior ability to inspire a love of learning in their students, their ability to motivate others and their leadership and service within and outside the classroom,” according to a Kohl Foundation news release.

A statewide committee, including representatives from the state Department of Public Instruction, chooses the winners.

UW-Stout’s School of Education has nine undergraduate and five graduate programs.



UW-Stout alumna Devin McKinnon received a Project Lead the Way national Teacher of the Year award recently.

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