Wayne State University

Alumni News

Prestigious Award Presented to COE Alumnus

Published Saturday, December 1, 2012

The highest award that the federal government gives to K-12 teachers –The Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) – was awarded in June 2012 to Don Pata, a physics teacher at Grosse Pointe North High School who is an alumnus of the College of Education (COE).  Mr. Pata earned his teaching certificate in 1999 and a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) degree in 2003 at Wayne State University. In addition to teaching at Grosse Pointe North for the past three summers, Pata has run a pedagogy and content physics workshop for physics teachers funded and hosted by the three local intermediate school districts.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) and the White House give two PAEMST awards per state per year (one in science teaching and one in mathematics teaching). Pata is the sole 2011 winner from Michigan. Outstanding K-12 science and mathematics teachers from across the country are selected annually to receive the award, chosen by a panel of distinguished scientists, mathematicians, and educators who identify the winners following an initial selection process undertaken at the state level. The award alternates each year between teachers of kindergarten through 6th grade and those teaching 7th through 12th grades; the 2011 awardees are 7th through 12th grade teachers.

Pata and the other winners (a total of 97 from all over the country) received a four-day, all- expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C. where they attended the awards ceremony and several days of educational and celebratory events, including visits with members of Congress and the Obama administration. In addition, the group attended policy meetings at the NSF and the Department of Education, where they met U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Vice President Biden and his wife Jill, who has been an educator for three decades.  “It was amazing,” said Don of the experience.

A $10,000 stipend from the National Science Foundation is presented to recipients of the Presidential award, for use at the winner’s discretion. “This is a huge award in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education which I'd like to use to further our cause: to bring quality science and math education to metro Detroit,” Pata stated. 

Pata studied Chemistry at WSU and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry. Because he “felt the need to see the world and somehow do something good,” he applied and was accepted into the Peace Corps where “teaching took on a whole new meaning for me. It allowed me to express myself and my love of science to the students.” He was excited to begin teaching when he returned home, but knew he needed a teaching certificate, which he earned through the College of Education’s MAT program. “Teaching is everything to me and I take every opportunity I can to become a better teacher,” he said; adding “… the COE has quality programs that go a long way to helping young teachers prepare for the classroom.”

The College of Education is proud that Don is one of its graduates and congratulates him on this distinction. Shown in the picture are: Don Pata (center) with Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education (left) and Dr. Cora B. Marrett, Deputy Director of the National Science Foundation (right).

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