Spotlight on Kathleen O’Dell, STEM-H Educator Award Winner

kathleen o'dell

During TechNite 2022, Kathleen O’Dell was recognized as an educator in the Roanoke–Blacksburg region that promotes math, science, and/or use of technology in creative ways to transfer knowledge and help develop future technology leaders. O’Dell became a math teacher at Christiansburg Middle School 15 years ago through a non-traditional route, incorporated real-world experiences into her curriculum, and realized teaching was the dream job she was looking for all along. O’Dell is the recipient of the 2022 Montgomery County Public School Teacher of the Year award, serves as Department Chair of the CMS Math Department, and worked as tutor and a curriculum specialist for the Boys and Girls Club from 2016 to 2021. In May, she received the STEM-H Educator Award in honor of her many achievements in STEM education.

Where is your Alma Mater and what did you study?

I attended Rutgers University and earned a BA in psychology with a specialization in child development. Following that, I earned an MA in Curriculum and Instruction with a K-8 Mat specialist endorsement from Virginia Tech.

What does it mean to you to win the STEM-H Educator Award from the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council?

I know that there are many very talented educators in the area, so to even be considered for the recognition as a STEM educator is an honor.  I am very appreciative of the award and am so thankful for STEM education to have a spotlight, because it is so important for students to have these opportunities to explore and learn.

You’re known and loved for your passion and commitment as well as the way you incorporate real-word experiences into your curriculum – supporting different types of learners.  What’s an example of this? 

My passion is helping students find the excitement and joy of learning.  Incorporating real-world experiences helps kids see the value of the things we do in school and giving them opportunities to incorporate their own ideas helps them feel ownership in the learning.  Students have taught me so many things and opened my eyes to how learning can look different and still be correct.  My motto is, “Math is never meant to stay in the classroom”.  I reward students who use the math we learn in class and apply it in real life situations and encourage them to find math in their everyday lives. 

Who is your inspiration/What inspires you most as an educator?

My father has always been my hero.  From an early age, he always showed me that learning was fun, and helped me become a critical thinker.  He was not a teacher in a classroom, but he has always been my favorite teacher and the one who has taught me the most.

Tell us a fun fact about you! 

My family is the most important thing in my life. I am married (30 years) and have 2 married daughters, one granddaughter and a grandchild on the way. I didn’t start teaching until my mid-thirties, and my family has always been my biggest supporter.  

You’re so passionate about STEM education that you’ve called it your “dream career.” What else can you tell us about your highly impactful career in STEM education? My career has allowed me opportunities to be recognized for some prestigious awards, including this Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council STEM-H award, as well as the PAEMST Award (Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching), Montgomery County and Christiansburg Middle School Teacher of the Year. But, if you were to ask me about accomplishments for which I am most proud, I would have to say that I am thankful to have helped students transition into young adults who are prepared for their futures, and who left my classroom knowing more about math and learning than they knew before they entered.  

Congratulations Kathy on your well-deserved award! We’re proud to recognize your hard work and important contributions to STEM and the innovation ecosystem in the Roanoke-Blacksburg region.

RAMP and RBTC are part of the Verge alliance, established to grow the region’s innovation economy, technology and life sciences sectors, and the supporting professional communities. It aligns the strengths and programming efforts of the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council (RBTC) and the Regional Accelerator and Mentoring Program (RAMP). Verge serves GO Virginia Region 2 and works to form collaborations with government, business, academia, and other organizations to advance the region and grow a thriving innovation economy.

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