Obama Recognizes Southeast Alumna for Excellence in Math, Science Teaching

Photo of Kay RiekCAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., Jan. 11, 2010 – Southeast Missouri State University alumna Kamilla “Kay” Riek of St. Louis was among more than 100 educators recognized last week in Washington, D.C., by President Barack Obama for excellence in mathematics and science teaching and mentoring as part of his “Educate to Innovate” campaign.

Riek has been teaching mathematics and science for nearly a decade, much of that time at Blanchard Elementary School in Cape Girardeau. She currently serves as the literacy coach in the Mehlville School District at Blades Elementary and Point Elementary schools. At the time of the award, she taught all fifth grade subjects at Bayless Intermediate School in the Bayless School District, where she was the grade-level lead teacher for balanced literacy and the lead teacher in the school district for writing science curriculum for fifth grade.

The Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching is awarded annually to outstanding pre-college level science and math teachers from across the country. The winners were selected by a panel of distinguished scientists, mathematicians and educators after an initial state level selection process. Each year the award alternates between science and math teachers in grades K through 6 (as it is this year) and those teaching in grades 7 through 12.

‘The Presidential Award means so much to me. I was honored to be nominated by one of my all time favorite colleagues, and Presidential Award winner, Mrs. Becky Hicks,” said Riek, who taught with Hicks at Blanchard Elementary. “I had already felt like a winner when I was notified that she was nominated me to compete for the award. I am extremely humbled by being chosen amongst so many amazing Missouri science teachers.

“The award also means so much to me because of my family’s support throughout the years,” she said. “I am truly a very, very blessed person.”

Riek graduated magna cum laude from Southeast Missouri State in 1997 with a bachelor of science degree in education-elementary, with a specialization in science. She is certified in first through eighth grade elementary education.

Riek credits much of her success to the teacher education preparation she received at Southeast Missouri State. While in Washington, D.C., to receive the award, she shared these sentiments with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

“In one of our sessions Secretary Duncan asked for those who felt that their college had prepared them for the classroom to raise their hands.  I was one of the very, very few that thought that their college had really prepared them,” she said.  “A little later I was able to respond to Secretary Duncan on why I felt prepared.  I was able to tell him that at Southeast Missouri State University, I was able to get into the classroom starting in my freshman year and continued valuable field experiences throughout my schooling.  By the looks on his face, and the looks of others in the audience, that must not be the case in most universities.”

“Winning this award is a tremendous honor,” said Mehlville School District Superintendent Terry Noble, who also holds both specialist’s and master’s degrees from Southeast Missouri State. “We congratulate Kay on her accomplishment and are thrilled to have her as a member of our staff.”

Students and colleagues of Riek have testified to her outstanding teaching abilities, saying they have learned much about science from her and are eager to learn more. Some said that although they had not been previously interested in science, they are now fascinated by the subject, describing it as a mystery waiting to be solved. Her letter of nomination says Riek makes learning a joy for her fifth grade students by making content comprehensible, interesting and fun.

Riek is described as an invaluable source of information and a teacher who is greatly respected and admired by students, parents, colleagues and administrators. Her nomination says her dedication to her work, ability to motivate and encourage students to learn, and her ability to capture students’ attention by using fun and exciting hands-on activities is to be commended.

She also facilitated “Sparklers,” an after-school tutoring program at Blanchard Elementary designed to enhance achievement for third grade students.

“Blanchard is such an amazing school with incredible teachers,” Riek said.

She has participated in numerous professional training and assessment programs. She is certified by CHARACTERplus in Basic Character Education and trained in the importance of Everyday Mathematics. She also is active in local, state and national professional associations and committees.

Southeast alumna Kamilla “Kay” Riek was among more than 100 educators recognized last week in Washington, D.C., by President Barack Obama for excellence in mathematics and science teaching and mentoring as part of his “Educate to Innovate” campaign.