Sara Roberts didn’t expect to win a Leading Lights award earlier this month. So much so that when family and friends asked if they could attend the Women and Hi Tech awards banquet, set in the Indiana Rooftop Ballroom in Indianapolis on Oct. 4, she said no.
After all, in her mind it seemed unlikely she would win considering the competition she was up against in the Outstanding Educator in Science, Technology, Engineering or Math (STEM) category. There were university professors and teachers from other schools, not to mention an employee from Microsoft.
Yes, that Microsoft.
Renee Rogge, a professor of biomedical engineering at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology had “more degrees than I care to count,” Roberts said Thursday afternoon at Triton Central Middle School in Fairland.
So when her name was announced, her mother – the one person she decided could come – reminded her she had to stand up to accept the award.
“Complete shock,” she said of her reaction. “In almost every category, there was a doctor who I truly believe is saving the world, somebody who’s teaching people how to live if there’s no energy so if the power grid goes out, or people who have seven patents in the works. So when it came to my category, there were tons of (worthy) people.”
Roberts was one of 11 nominees in the category, which was one of nine categories. There were a total of 119 nominees for an evening of dinner, networking and awards.
After their names were announced, each of the award winners walked up to receive their award and their accomplishments were read.
Her efforts to incorporate coding into Triton Central Middle School’s science curriculum and an increase in student demand for STEM courses due to her passion for technology was cited by Women and Hi Tech, a non-profit organization based in Indianapolis that encourages women to become more involved in STEM.
Roberts is also involved with the robotics club at the middle school. The club had 25 percent of the student population apply for the VEX IQ program last school year, but because of a lack of funding, space and time, many of them were unable to join.
To combat that this year, the program plans to offer three one-week robotics camps for those who aren’t in the club.
“What is really unique and interesting, what they learn here applies so much in all their classes, not just mine,” she said. “This really is about problem-solving and teamwork. When you have to meet brand-new kids and come up with a plan, those strategies carry over into all aspects of their lives. It’s definitely something you can see a direct positive outcome for in their classrooms.”
Perhaps as equally enjoyable for Roberts was the opportunity to network with others who have similar interests.
“It was actually an exciting opportunity because the things I’m passionate about, STEM and computer science, they’re passionate about, so a lot of times when you’re with people and start talking about computer science and STEM, they listen to you because they’re being polite but they don’t really get it,” she said. “When you’re in a room with people that get it, the conversations, they were fantastic.”