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Big Science and Big Results Earn Teacher Rebecca Missler a $25,000 Milken Educator Award

Alaska educator experiments creatively to lift student achievement at North Pole High in Fairbanks

December 17, 2019

SANTA MONICA, Calif.,  There's never a dull moment in Rebecca Missler's science classes at North Pole High School in Fairbanks, AK. Whether she has her class blazing up a fire tornado to study the Coriolis effect in earth science class or excavating dinosaur bones out of rocks from Alaska's North Slope, Missler believes in hands-on learning for her students. Missler also keeps her students on track with relentless positivity and personalized learning strategies that maximize individual student performance. A trained geologist who spends summers working in the paleontology department of a nearby museum, Missler is always looking for new ways to engage her students and expand their horizons. Missler even pursued special training and certification to be able to bring a collection of moon rocks to wow the school district's science classes. 

But it was Missler who was over the moon this morning at a surprise school assembly where she was presented with a Milken Educator Award by Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley and Alaska Deputy Commissioner of Education Karen Melin. Missler was named a 2019-20 recipient of the national recognition, which comes with an unrestricted $25,000 cash prize. She is the only Milken Educator Award winner from Alaska this year, and is among up to 40 honorees for 2019-20. 

The Milken Educator Awards, hailed by Teacher magazine as the "Oscars of Teaching" has been opening minds and shaping futures for over 30 years. Research shows teacher quality is the driving in-school factor behind student growth and achievement. The initiative not only aims to reward great teachers, but to celebrate, elevate and activate those innovators in the classroom who are guiding America's next generation of leaders. Milken Educators believe, "The future belongs to the educated." 

Missler is building a bridge to that future for her students with an emphasis on STEM education served up in an approachable, down-to-earth manner. Missler presents big-picture concepts via customizable lessons tailored to individual student needs. The result is a vibrant and engaged student body, primed to learn. A district curriculum leader, Missler mentors other teachers and takes the lead on spearheading new initiatives for the school district such as Next Generation Science Standards. 

"A great teacher like Rebecca Missler knows that STEM education is the key to better futures for her students," said Foley. "By providing her learners with the critical thinking skills they need to analyze any problem going forward, she helps them confront the unknown challenges that lie ahead. Her creative, analytical and practical approach is the kind of inspirational leadership we look for in Milken Educators." 

"Rebecca Missler has consistently demonstrated a commitment to her students by going above and beyond to infuse new, creative, and relevant lessons into the classroom," said Alaska Education and Early Development Commissioner and 2008 Milken Educator Award recipient Dr. Michael Johnson. "Rebecca's dedication to personalized learning and her innovative hands-on science curriculum have inspired student engagement and success. She brings enthusiasm and service to her classroom and colleagues, and is well deserving of this prestigious recognition." 

"Rebecca Missler is such a positive force in the classroom," said District Superintendent Dr. Karen Gaborik. "She uses hands-on activities mixed with technology to engage her students and fuel their excitement for learning. She's also a valued colleague of her fellow teachers, always willing to be a chaperone, serve on a curriculum committee, write a pilot course for the district, or design instructional field trips." 

About Milken Educator Rebecca Missler

Rebecca Missler, a science teacher at Alaska's North Pole High School (NPHS), works hard to make learning hands-on and relevant for her students. Her classes have excavated dinosaur bones from Alaska's North Slope and set sugar on fire to create "worms" (long columns of black ash) in chemistry and create a fire tornado in earth science to study induction and the Coriolis effect. Missler attended special training to be able to receive a collection of moon rocks, pieces of science history she shared with students throughout the district. It's little wonder that her students actively participate in classroom discussions and activities, working hard and supporting each other thanks to the positive atmosphere Missler creates in her classroom. 

Missler works tirelessly to help others with whatever needs to be done. When the district selected a new learning management system, she requested extra training so she could help colleagues adapt to the new platform. Missler served on the mentoring committee for new teachers and played a large role in the district's transition to the Next Generation Science Standards and Alaska's State Science Standards. Her work on the district curriculum review committee led to two new classes at NPHS: paleontology and geology, both of which Missler now teaches. She has taken a deep dive into personalized learning, a current initiative in the district, adapting her lessons to students' particular needs and looking to teaching practices around the world for inspiration. Math often gets in the way of success in chemistry, so Missler starts the year with a math quiz, followed by a unit that scaffolds and builds skills where students have deficits. Students show improvement in both science and math with each subsequent assessment.  

Missler helped secure a grant to start the NPHS International Club, chaperoning trips to Costa Rica and other foreign countries in an effort to expose students to a wide variety of scientific concepts and projects. She leads the National Honors Society and Academic Decathlon. Trained as a geologist, Missler does field work that she has presented to scientists and science educators at national STEM conferences. She spent last summer working in the paleontology section of a nearby science museum. 

Missler earned a B.S. in geology from Lake Superior State University in 2004 and a master's in secondary education from the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 2016. 

More information about Missler, plus links to photos and a video from today's assembly, can be found on the Milken Educator Awards website at

Milken Educators are selected in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish. In addition to the $25,000 prize and public recognition, the honor includes membership in the National Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,800 top teachers, principals, and specialists dedicated to strengthening education. 

In addition to participation in the Milken Educator Network, 2019-20 recipients will attend a Milken Educator Forum in Indianapolis from March 26-28, 2020 where they will network with their new colleagues and exchange ideas with state and federal leaders on the future of education. In addition, the Milken Educator Awards' "Why Not Us" program will pair each 2019-20 recipient with a veteran Milken Educator mentor to explore and prepare for expanded leadership roles that strengthen education practice and policy. 

More than $140 million in funding, including $70 million in individual $25,000 awards, has been devoted to the overall Awards initiative, which includes powerful professional development opportunities throughout recipients' careers. Many have gone on to earn advanced degrees and be placed in prominent posts and on state and national education committees.

The Awards alternate yearly between elementary and secondary educators. Unlike most teacher recognition programs, the Milken Educator Award is completely unique: Educators cannot apply for this recognition and do not even know they are under consideration. Candidates are sourced through a confidential selection process and then are reviewed by blue ribbon panels appointed by state departments of education. Those most exceptional are recommended for the Award, with final selection made by the Milken Family Foundation.

The cash award is unrestricted. Recipients have used the money in diverse ways; for instance, on their children’s or their own continuing education, financing dream field trips, establishing scholarships, and even on the adoption of children.

To get regular updates on the surprise Milken Educator Award events, follow and use the #MilkenAward hashtag on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Everyone is encouraged to watch the tour at,, and

For more information, visit or call MFF at (310) 570-4772.

About the Milken Educator Awards

The very first Milken Educator Awards were presented by the Milken Family Foundation in 1987. The Awards provide public recognition and individual financial rewards of $25,000 to elementary and secondary school teachers, principals and specialists from around the country who are furthering excellence in education. Recipients are heralded in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish.

Lynne Russo 
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