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Making an Impact: Celebrating our 2021 STEM Achievement Awards

At our recent Virtual Gala: Thank You Science, we recognized the outstanding individuals and organizations who are active in their communities, inspiring lifelong learning and making a difference.  The 2021 STEM Achievement Award honorees and finalists were announced and we wanted to take this opportunity to highlight their work. You will quickly see how each and every one embody our mission here at the Connecticut Science Center, and why each was honored with an award.

The STEM Achievement Awards, sponsored by Stanley Black & Decker, celebrates the achievements of professionals, groups, advocates, businesses, and leaders who share the mission to inspire lifelong learning through interactive and innovative experiences that explore our changing world through science.

Tara Jo Holmberg, MA, MEd, MS is the 2021 STEM Achievement Award Individual Honoree. Tara Jo is a Professor of Environmental Science and Biology and is entering her 20th year of teaching at Northwestern Connecticut Community College. An award-winning educator, she facilitates a wide variety of courses in the life and Earth sciences and is the Coordinator for the Natural Resources Programs. Tara Jo incorporates service learning, citizen/community science, and high-quality, real-world, data into her classes. Her focus is on inquiry-based, active learning opportunities for students to achieve their goals. Her own goal as an educator is to reignite the curiosity and wonder that students have often lost about science and the natural world. A Teacher Ambassador for BioInteractive (of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute), she facilitates professional development opportunities for high school and higher education faculty from local to international sales. Beyond life and environmental science mentoring, Tara Jo also works in the interdisciplinary areas of technology-supported education, inclusive and accessible teaching, and culturally- relevant pedagogy. She is a published scholar of biology education research, regularly presents at conferences, and is heavily engaged in the work of the National Association of Biology Teachers. Finally, she is a Board Member for a local conservation organization, volunteers in her community, and is currently pursuing her Ph.D in Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies.

Jordan A. Greco, Ph.D is a 2021 STEM Achievement Award Individual Finalist. Jordan is the Chief Scientific Officer of LambdaVision, Inc. and an Assistant Research Professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Connecticut. As a physical chemist, Dr. Greco’s research interests include the photophysics of biological chromophores and light-activated proteins, as well as the application of these principles to design biophotonic devices. Alongside his research team at LambdaVision, he is developing a protein-based artificial retina to treat patients blinded by retinal degenerative diseases. His research has recently involved the production of artificial retinas on the International Space Station, thus establishing a new microgravity-based infrastructure to manufacture products with direct clinical benefit. Dr. Greco is passionate about helping young scientists in their career development. Drawing from his experiences as a chemist, educator, and entrepreneur, he continues to mentor students from the high school to graduate level, and he strives to instill the importance of a diverse academic background, strong communication skills, and creative problem solving.

Greg M. Jones is a 2021 STEM Achievement Award Individual Finalist. Greg is a financial and corporate strategy executive with over 25 years of assisting public and privately held manufacturing, utilities and healthcare companies grow their business through organic, joint ventures and mergers and acquisition activities including capital raising and effective deployment. Currently, he is Vice President, Strategy and Planning for corporate social responsibility and community health and engagement at Hartford HealthCare. He is the founder and chairman of the Legacy Foundation of Hartford, a philanthropy focused on addressing disparities in health and education. He created the Black Men’s Health Project, an initiative focused on encouraging Black men to be informed and primarily responsible for their respective health. He is a member of the Eversource Energy Board of Directors. He served on the Hartford Hospital Board of Directors for six years and was the chairman of the quality and credentials committee. He has been a member of the Board of Directors for the Greater Hartford Community Foundation (The Travelers Championship PGA Golf Tournament) for five years and focuses his efforts on corporate and business development and community engagement and outreach for the tournament. He earned an MBA for the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, a Master in Public Management from Carnegie Mellon University, and a Bachelor of Science from Morgan State University.

The Natural Resources Conservation Academy at the University of Connecticut is the 2021 STEM Achievement Award Organization Honoree. The Academy has been empowering teens, adult volunteers, undergraduate & graduate students, and teachers statewide by providing professional development & leadership opportunities and supporting participant lead community conservation efforts. They have provided a direct assist to land conservation work statewide and helped foster the next generation of environmental stewards. The NRCA uses an innovative leadership framework that supports the implementation of environmental solutions, and crosses age and ability boundaries to develop a more inclusive and equitable environmental sector. Collectively, 260 community conservation projects have been carried out by NRCA teen-adult partnerships.

For the first time ever, the Connecticut Science Center has added a Youth Award category to the STEM Achievement Awards. The 2021 STEM Achievement Award Youth Honoree is Joel Torres. The student achievement award recognizes and celebrates a student in grades 8-12 who has shown curiosity, achievement, and/or leadership in one or more STEM fields. This could be through promoting STEM Education in the school or community, or through the creation and development of a novel product or technology tool.

Joel Torres is the 2021 STEM Achievement Award Youth Honoree. Joel is currently a student at Pathways Academy of Technology and Design and is a graduate of the Connecticut Science Center’s Teen Innovation Program. Joel was a member of the Teen Innovation Program for 4 years, working on new demonstrations that were then presented to Science Center visitors. Through the program and the experiences he has had over the last 4 years, Joel has discovered his passion for STEM, specifically electrical engineering. He was able to go out on the floor and interact with Science Center visitors frequently, finding that educating others on his passion is very rewarding. He will be attending the University of Connecticut, majoring in Electrical Engineering. One piece of advice Joel carries around with him for others is to “…step out of your comfort zone, and try new things. One just never knows exactly what they are capable of, or what they are passionate about unless you try something new.”

Congratulations to all of the 2021 STEM Achievement Award Finalists and Honorees. Be sure to read more about the 2021 Petit Family Foundation Women in Science Leadership Award Honorees to learn about the amazing work they are doing in the community as well.

For more information about the Connecticut Science Center’s mission and work, visit CTScienceCenter.org/Awards.

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Katelyn Rutty is the Communications Coordinator at the Connecticut Science Center where she manages all of the online content platforms. She has a Masters in Business Administration from Western New England University.