Seal of the Governor
For Immediate Release: September 4, 2019
Contacts: Office of the Governor: Alena Yarmosky, Alena.Yarmosky@governor.virginia.gov

Governor Northam Announces 2019 Outstanding STEM Award Recipients

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam and the Science Museum of Virginia’s Chief Wonder Officer Richard Conti today announced the 2019 Outstanding STEM Award recipients. Five individuals were selected for their scientific contributions, which help strengthen the Commonwealth’s current and future position as a leader in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.

“Virginia has a distinguished record as one of the best states in the STEM disciplines, and that is because of the talent, innovation, and entrepreneurial spirit of scientists, students, and educators like those we are honoring with this year’s awards,” said Governor Northam. “I am proud to continue the tradition of celebrating the tremendous achievements of these Virginians, and thank them for their contributions to these important fields.”

For more than 30 years, Virginia has been recognizing excellence across the Commonwealth with the Outstanding STEM Awards. This year, winners are honored in three categories:

  • Virginia’s Outstanding Scientist, awarded to scientists who have made globally significant contributions to their field.
  • STEM Conductor, awarded to a Virginia educator who has created enriching experiences that inspire the next generation of STEM enthusiasts.
  • STEM Phenom, awarded to a student who applied STEM principles for exceptional ends to make the world a better place.

“Educators, scientists, and students who inspire others to learn enrich our schools, laboratories, classrooms, and communities,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “I am excited to honor the achievements of these five exemplary individuals who have strengthened STEM education in the Commonwealth through their research and service.”

The five honorees will receive their awards at the Science Museum of Virginia on Thursday, September 26. The Virginia Outstanding STEM Awards ceremony is made possible by the generous support from Mr. and Mrs. Thomas F. Garner, Jr. and Dr. and Mrs. William V. Garner though the Community Foundation for a greater Richmond.

“The Museum is proud to celebrate individuals who are making the world a better place through their research and applications of STEM,” said Rich Conti, Chief Wonder Officer at the Science Museum of Virginia. “We may not stop to think about it throughout the day, but so much of our quality of life can be attributed to advances in STEM. These talented Virginians are an inspiration to us all.”

The bios of each of Virginia’s 2019 Outstanding STEM Award Recipients are listed below, by award category.

Virginia’s Outstanding Scientists

Thomas Eugene Lovejoy, Ph.D.

McLean resident, Yale University graduate, and George Mason University Professor Thomas Lovejoy served as the second President of the Society for Conservation Biology, playing a central role in its development as a scientific discipline. He initiated the largest experiment in landscape ecology in the Central Amazon to study the impacts of forest fragmentation. In 1985, he helped organize the first meeting on biodiversity and climate change, which led to three books that he co-authored and co-edited on the subject.

Lovejoy served in advisory roles in the Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Clinton administrations, and was science envoy for the Department of State from 2016 to 2018. From 2008 to 2013, he served as Chair of the Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel to the Global Environment Facility. In 2018, he received the Beck Presidential Medal for Excellence in Research and Scholarship for his outstanding research and mentorship of the next generation of environmental science and policy leaders. His expertise is continually sought by local, national, and international governments and non-government organizations where he has helped develop science-based environmental conservation policy.

Lovejoy was selected for the Virginia Outstanding Scientist Award for being one of the founders of the thriving scientific field of conservation biology and discovering the potentially devastating effects of global warming on biodiversity. His life-long work highlights the importance of conserving biotic diversity to sustain vital ecosystem functions and services.

Volker Burkert, Ph.D.

In 1975, Volker Burkert received his Ph.D. in physics at Bonn University in Germany. Ten years later, he began working as a scientist at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (Jefferson Lab) in Newport News where he focused on broadening the scientific reach of the CLAS detector in support of an internationally renowned research program in charting the strongest force in nature that holds subatomic particles together using the most advanced technologies available.

Since 2003 at Jefferson Lab, Burkert has been leading a team of scientists, students, engineers, technicians and an international collaboration of more than 200 scientists from around the world in the study of nucleons (protons and neutrons) and atomic nuclei. Their work has provided deeper insight into the inner structure of these subatomic particles, and they discovered several new, excited states of the nucleon. Burkert has been a member of International Advisory Committees and Local Organizing Committees for over two decades, as well as a member of International Scientific Committees.

Burkert was selected as a Virginia Outstanding Scientist Award recipient for his foresight and leadership in expanding the CLAS nuclear and particle physics detector capabilities, and utilizing the full power of CLAS and Jefferson Lab to deliver new insights into the origin of visible mass in our universe. Through mentoring, outreach and community oversight, he promotes excellence within the commonwealth and the international scientific community.

STEM Conductor

Barbara Westlund

Barbara Westlund is a STEM resource teacher and coach at Yorktown Elementary Math, Science, and Technology Magnet School. The Hampton Roads resident holds a Master’s Certification in Integrated STEM Education and is currently working toward a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership. She has collaborated with LEGO™ and NASA to plan and facilitate STEM professional development sessions for staff at her school and regularly provides division-wide STEM training for York County Public Schools.

Westlund is a certified Project Lead the Way (PLTW) teacher and completed an online training to become a PLTW Lead. This well-respected and sought-after certification helps educators create an engaging classroom environment where students are taught to solve problems, think critically and creatively, communicate and collaborate, and are empowered to develop and apply in-demand computer science, engineering, and biomedical science skills by exploring real-world challenges. Westlund encourages other teachers to take ownership of the program and facilitate the engineering design modules in their classrooms.

Westlund has facilitated STEM sessions at the Virginia Children’s Engineering Convention for the last six years, and has written curriculum based on Common Core to better align with Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs). She is active in her community, planning a Family Magnet Night by coordinating with local agencies to provide interactive STEM activities for families and coaching two competitive LEGO™ robotics teams and a non-competitive club. She is also in the process of developing an entrepreneurs club.

Westlund was selected for the STEM Conductor Award for providing leadership and support to integrate STEM instruction across grade levels and subjects, and inspiring her students to consider STEM careers. As an active state board member for the Children’s Engineering Council, she has been integral in the implementation of STEM instruction and professional development across the Commonwealth.

STEM Phenoms

Shan Lateef

Prince William County resident Shan Lateef’s interest in STEM began long before he became a student at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. Using the common fruit fly, Lateef and a collaborator conducted a year-long project to understand the implications of UV radiation on health and the potential of antioxidants to protect against UV-induced damage.

His current research focuses on the cellular and molecular mechanism of Traumatic Brain Injury to determine appropriate targets for treatments and interventions. Lateef has successfully published his initial findings in the Journal of Experimental Neuroscience and has presented his work at two scientific conferences.

This spring, Lateef received the American Academy of Neurology’s Neuroscience Research Prize, one of just four high school students in the United States awarded the honor. He also won the first place award in Medicine and Health at the National Junior Science and Humanities Symposium. He is currently serving as the President of the Virginia Junior Academy of Science.

Lateef was selected as a STEM Phenom because he successfully combines his passion for STEM with his commitment for community service, creating One World, an organization to empower underprivileged youth through STEM education. He has dedicated himself to understanding STEM principles in the classroom and lab, and to finding new ways to solve challenging problems in human health and disease.

Cameron Sharma

Cameron Sharma is a rising sophomore in the Center for Medical Sciences at Godwin High School in Henrico County. Sharma qualified for Mensa in first grade, was selected into Henrico County’s Early Bird Math Program when he was in fourth grade (obtaining the first-ever 100 percent on the entrance test), scored a perfect 800 on SAT Math at 12 years old and passed the Advanced Placement Calculus BC exam in eighth grade.

In seventh grade, Sharma invented a biostatistical model to calculate the flu vaccine prior and identical to those created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. A year later, he followed the biostatistical model with a personalized flu vaccine app.

In addition to placing first at the regional and state STEM competitions, Sharma qualified for the 2017 Broadcom Math, Applied Science, Technology, and Engineering for Rising Stars and 2018 3M/Discovery Young Scientist Lab. He scored in the top 0.2 percent in the Mathematical Association of America AMC8 math competition, and was invited to participate in the Johns Hopkins’ Study of Exceptional Talent where he scored in the top 0.5 percent globally on their qualifying test.

In addition to his scientific accomplishments, Sharma volunteers with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Virginia Commonwealth University Massey Cancer Center, Shalom Farms, and James River Parks System. Sharma was selected as a STEM Phenom Award recipient because he serves as a role model to his peers and inspires those around him to achieve their dreams through STEM.

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