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Robotics Whisperer Ben Nguyen Inspires Students, Earns $25,000 Milken Educator Award

Nevada teacher spurs STEM surge among students at Sunrise Mountain High School

October 24, 2019

SANTA MONICA, Calif., — Robotics is the future and that future is now for Ben Nguyen's students at Sunrise Mountain High School in Las Vegas. The Nevada educator and STEM champion ignites a passion for robots, drones, engineering and tech manufacturing at this school on a daily basis. Building a thriving practical robotics program from what was once just a small afterschool club, Nguyen employs a hands-on approach, partnering with state organizations and private technology companies such as Tesla to empower students and improve real-life outcomes.

Yet it was Nguyen who experienced an unexpected surge in opportunity this morning at a surprise school assembly where he was presented with a Milken Educator Award by Milken Family Foundation Chairman and Co-Founder Lowell Milken and Nevada Superintendent of Public Instruction Jhone Ebert. An appreciative Nguyen was named a 2019-20 recipient of the national recognition, which comes with an unrestricted $25,000 cash prize. He is one of two Milken Educator Award winners from Nevada 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."

Nguyen is bringing that future closer for his students thanks to his tireless efforts to expand the horizons of their dreams and expectations—and by giving them the mental and physical tools to build a better future of their own design. He achieves this kind of high-tech education magic not just with drones and robots and aviation technology, but also through parental involvement in student learning strategies, creative community outreach and innovative classroom approaches.

"Ben Nguyen expands the universe of opportunity for students through their exposure to computer science, robotics and manufacturing technology," said Milken. "He is preparing students to develop the flexibility, collaboration and ingenuity vital to compete in the 21st century."

"Ben Nguyen's passion for educational success is shown through the countless hours he's spent helping students realize their true potential, and I could not be happier to see him receive this well-deserved award," said Governor Steve Sisolak. "What Ben accomplished at Sunrise Mountain High School - from creating an after-school robotics club to creating an after-school ACT bootcamp - should be applauded, but Ben's true brilliance is evident in his efforts to reach out beyond his own school, recognizing that lasting educational change comes from a comprehensive strategy that targets all grade levels in a community. Improving K-12 education in Nevada is my top priority as Governor, and empowering teachers like Ben is how we make real progress."

"I am thrilled that for the first time in more than a decade two very deserving educators in Nevada are receiving the Milken Educator Award," said Ebert. "Two of my top priorities in the state are to elevate the teaching profession and end our teacher shortage. This award not only rewards deserving teachers but signifies how important teachers are in our society. I would like to congratulate Ben Nguyen for the outstanding work he does every day teaching STEM courses and being a leader in the field of robotics."

"Ben Nguyen is a great example of a teacher who inspires his students," said Dr. Jesus Jara, Clark County School District Superintendent. "By going the extra mile and establishing an after-school robotics club, Ben found a way to give his students at Sunrise Mountain High School a way to apply the concepts they were learning in their STEM classes. His robotics teaching extends to several other schools in the Clark County School District, our higher education institutions and industry. On behalf of our District, I would like to thank the Milken Family Foundation for recognizing a great teacher."

About Milken Educator Ben Nguyen

Ben Nguyen has opened a new world of opportunities in science, engineering, manufacturing and robotics to students at Sunrise Mountain High School (SMHS) in Las Vegas. He arrived to teach physics in 2014 via Teach for America, but soon realized that students had no way to apply the concepts they were learning. The after-school robotics club Nguyen started has since grown into a robust class and competitive robotics program. Students participate in events like VEX Robotics, FIRST Robotics and drone challenges. Nguyen and his students host booths at conventions like the LVL UP Expo, a video game and anime event, and InterDrone and Commercial UAV Expo, which showcase drone technology. Beyond SMHS, Nguyen has built the robotics program at a feeder middle school and works with more than 15 schools in Las Vegas to create robotics opportunities for students in third grade through high school.

Thousands of students across Nevada have benefited from Nguyen's commitment to preparing students for STEM careers. In addition to robotics, Nguyen now teaches automation and manufacturing technology, programs he brought to SMHS and funded through grants and online fundraising drives. He has built a network of partnerships with educational and commercial organizations, including Tesla, Nevada Business Aviation Association, Desert Research Institute and the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV), and mentors other automation and manufacturing teachers throughout the state. SMHS is a high-transience, high-poverty school, and Nguyen makes a point of recruiting at-risk students to join his programs. Driven and dedicated to the young people he teaches, Nguyen paints a picture of their future success and helps them believe in their ability to achieve it. SMHS graduates have gone on to study manufacturing, automation and computer science; a handful now hold skilled labor jobs at Tesla. In the five years Nguyen has taught at SMHS, the school's graduation rate has risen from 34% to 93%, with Nguyen's efforts earning significant credit.

Nguyen has built a community at SMHS around STEM. Students gather in Nguyen's classroom before and after school. Family support is integral to students' success in STEM, so Nguyen includes parents in a shared vision of students leading the professions of the future and overcoming generational poverty. Noticing that ACT scores were low, he started tutoring and test prep bootcamps. In addition to teaching, Nguyen develops partnerships across Nevada and abroad for GRADD (Global Robot And Drone Deployment), a local technology company.

Nguyen earned a bachelor's degree in anthropology in 2014 from Dartmouth College and a master's degree in secondary science curriculum and instruction in 2016 from UNLV.

More information about Nguyen, plus links to photos and a video from today's assembly, can be found on the Milken Educator Awards website at https://www.milkeneducatorawards.org/educators/view/Ben-Nguyen.

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 2,700 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 www.facebook.com/milkeneducatorawards, www.twitter.com/milken, www.youtube.com/milkenaward and www.instagram.com/milkenfamilyfdn.

For more information, visit www.MilkenEducatorAwards.org 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 
(818) 903-6079 cell; 
lynneerusso@gmail.com


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