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Norwalk Teacher Angelica Gunderson Leads the Way for STEM Empowerment and Earns a $25,000 Milken Educator Award

Middle school STEM teacher drives programs that close gender gaps and propel academic achievement in Norwalk, California 

Oprah Winfrey congratulates Milken Educators in heartwarming video message as 'light in this world' 

U.S. Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona says Milken Educators "personify excellence in education"

May 10, 2022

Santa Monica, Calif., — No matter their background, students at Los Alisos STEM Magnet Middle School in Norwalk, California, can look to legendary scientists and see their future. That's because they have a powerful advocate, Angelica Gunderson, in their corner. Gunderson is Los Alisos' lead teacher for Project Lead the Way (PLTW), a three-year science program that covers coding, robotics, green architecture and more. In and out of the classroom, Gunderson is making strides to close gender and equity gaps, empowering students to become critical thinkers and pursue futures in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). Today, Gunderson’s own career received a boost when she was surprised with a national Milken Educator Award and its unrestricted $25,000 cash prize. 

Milken Educator Awards Senior Program Director Greg Gallagher and California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond presented Gunderson with the prestigious recognition before cheering students, appreciative colleagues, and state and local dignitaries. In addition to today's festivities, Gunderson will join a national network of more than 2,800 Milken educators and leaders across the U.S. 

Gunderson is the sole educator in California and among more than 60 nationwide who will receive the Award during the 2021-22 season. She is the first recipient from the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District. 

"STEM jobs are in high demand, and the excellence Angelica Gunderson demonstrates in preparing students to compete in a global economy is representative of the important work being done at Los Alisos Middle School every day," said Gallagher. "Angelica equips her students with the skills and knowledge to succeed and the confidence and determination to realize their dreams."

Hailed as the "Oscars of Teaching," Milken Educator Awards inspire and uplift with the unique stories of educators making a profound difference for students, colleagues and communities. The Awards are not designated for lifetime achievement. Recipients are heralded while early to mid-career for what they have achieved — and for the promise of what they will accomplish given the resources and opportunities inherent in the Award.

Oprah, a longtime education advocate, shared her congratulations to this year's recipients in a video message thanking "the most incredible educators around the country" and acknowledging her deep appreciation for the "tireless work" they do. U.S. Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona said Milken Educators "personify excellence in education" and "inspire leadership and motivate students to excel." 

More About Angelica Gunderson

Closing Education Gaps: Because of its extensive Project Lead the Way (PLTW) offerings, Los Alisos was recognized by the California League of Schools as a "School to Watch" in 2020. Gunderson also leads the school's Femineer and Snap the Gap programs, both focused on closing the gender gap in STEM careers. Everything Gunderson does at Los Alisos has a direct impact on students' current and future academic success. She was one of the forces behind Los Alisos' adoption of AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), an equity-focused college readiness program that has delivered remarkable results at the school. Students come back from colleges like Stanford University and Cal Poly to tell Gunderson that her passion inspired them to major in engineering, be the first in their families to earn college degrees, with some even becoming educators themselves. 

Next Generation STEM Educators: In addition to her middle schoolers, Gunderson teaches pre-service and in-service science educators as a professor at California State University Long Beach (CSULB), her alma mater. She models research-based approaches to teaching science and always thinks about learning through the eyes of the children she teaches. This reminds her adult students that kids can execute complex tasks and understand complicated ideas. 

School and District Leadership: Gunderson served as lead teacher at CSULB's Young Scientists Camp and attended Exploratorium's Institute for Inquiry. She has led professional development for the district and presented at the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) on integrating Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and STEM instructional strategies for English learners. At Los Alisos, Gunderson sits on the site leadership and NGSS committees. She mentors new science teachers and leads NGSS training. 

Learning Adaptation: The pandemic threw a wrench into Gunderson's highly collaborative Project Lead the Way video production class. Determined, she helped students produce, edit and distribute their weekly newscast, even as they all worked from home instead of her fully-equipped classroom.

Education: Gunderson earned a bachelor's in liberal studies in 2004 and a master's in science education in 2012 from CSULB.

More About the Milken Educator Awards: "The future belongs to the educated."

Along with the financial prize, Milken Educator Award recipients join the national Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,800 top teachers, principals and specialists. The network serves as a rich resource for fellow educators, legislators, school boards and others dedicated to excellence in education.

  • In June, the honorees will also attend an all-expenses-paid Milken Educator Awards Forum in Los Angeles, where they will network with their new colleagues as well as veteran Milken Educators and other education leaders about how to increase their impact on K-12 education. In addition, they will learn about how to become involved in the Milken Friends Forever (MFFs) mentoring program, in which freshman Milken Educators receive personalized coaching and support from a Milken Educator veteran on ways to elevate their instructional practice and take an active role in educational leadership, policy and practice.
  • Over the years, more than $140 million in funding, including $70 million for the individual cash awards, has been devoted to the overall Milken Awards initiative, which includes powerful professional development opportunities throughout recipients' careers. 
  • Veteran Milken Educators frequently go on to serve in leadership roles at state, national and international levels. 
  • "We find you. You don't find us!" Unlike most teacher recognition programs, the Milken Educator Awards initiative has no formal nomination or application process. Candidates are sourced through a confidential selection process and then reviewed by blue ribbon panels in each state. The most exceptional candidates are recommended for the award, with final selection made by the Milken Family Foundation. 
  • The $25,000 cash award is unrestricted. Recipients have used the money in diverse ways. For instance, some have spent the funds on their children's or their own continuing education, financing dream field trips, establishing scholarships, and even adopting children.  

To get regular updates on the surprise Milken Educator Award events or to watch the award events unfold, follow and use the #MilkenAward hashtag on Facebook (@MilkenEducatorAwards), Twitter (@Milken), YouTube (/MilkenAward), Instagram (MilkenFamilyFdn), and TikTok (@MilkenAward).

For more information, visit or call the Milken Family Foundation at (310) 570-4772.

About the Milken Educator Awards
The 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. The initiative was created by the Milken Family Foundation, which celebrates 40 years of elevating education in America and around the world. Learn more at

Press Contact:

Jana Rausch
Vice President, Communications
310-570-4774 Office 310-435-9259 Cell