LeFevre to Receive 1st annual Chicago Motivator Award
Niles West High School science teacher Ami LeFevre will be honored with the 1st annual American Women in Science (AWIS) Chicago Motivator Award next month. The Chicago Motivator Award is an award given to a woman who has had impact or influence on other women in the area of science. AWIS President Joy Ramos noted in her congratulatory note to LeFevre, “What stood out about your nomination was that you consistently and selflessly went above and beyond your teaching responsibilities to motivate and encourage young girls to realize the importance of STEM and to pursue this as a career. Your continued efforts have helped positively impact the appreciation and participation of young female students in STEM in the community.” LeFevre will be feted at an award dinner in Chicago on June 6.
LeFevre was nominated for the award by fellow Niles West science teacher Margaret Donnelley, who stated, “This award is designed for Ami LeFevre. She is a true champion for women in the STEM fields. For the past 20 years, Ms. LeFevre has worked tirelessly to help young women and girls achieve. She has impacted the lives of thousands of females as a high school science teacher, chemistry club sponsor, and Girls Empowered by Math and Science (GEMS) organizer.
LeFevre teaches chemistry and biology at Niles West, in addition to Advanced Placement biology and Honors chemistry. She talks about an experience presenting at a program for young girls sponsored by the American Association of University Women that led to that gem of an idea. “I was so motivated after I saw how excited those girls were. If you could see their faces…I wish I could bottle it up and sell it. They were so excited about science. It’s just that spark that they had. I thought, ‘We should have it here….’”
LeFevre created GEMS, a conference designed for fifth and sixth grade girls to have a fun-filled day learning about careers in science from college and university students, as well as women working in the industry. “After hearing an awful lot about how important it is to create a culture among girls to motivate them to go into the fields related to science or math, that was my motivation to get involved with bringing girls together and giving them more confidence. Letting them realize that, yes, there’s a possibility for them to have these types of careers.”
LeFevre held the first GEMS conference at Niles West in 2009 and it was a great success with attendees, parents and presenters. “It’s just a day,” she said, “but you don’t realize how much of an impact that day can really have on these girls.”
Donnelley, who attended the GEMS conference in 2010 with her daughter, stated, “The energy and enthusiasm was contagious and I know that my daughter was deeply impacted by the day and began to see how exciting and fun science can be.”
Reaching out to fifth and sixth grade girls is a critical time in their formative years, LeFevre noted, because “The sooner you can get them and motivate them to pursue more classes in math and science, the better they tend to be in the long run.” Girls in seventh and eighth grade, she said, are already self-conscious about themselves and often don’t have the confidence to enroll in these classes.
LeFevre says that “Students often think that they need to be born with these skills, that they can’t learn these skills, that these skills should come easily to them, but that’s not necessarily the case for many students, boys or girls. They just need to learn how to learn and perhaps they just need someone to show them the way.”
In addition to organizing the GEMS conference, LeFevre finds other opportunities to inspire students with science: she brings students to conferences at Argonne National Laboratories; as Chemistry Club sponsor, she and her students perform outreach by demonstrating experiments at Edison Elementary School and for the general public at American Chemistry Day. LeFevre has also been a speaker at District 211’s science programs in Palatine, helping them to motivate and inspire girls to pursue a career in science.
The AWIS Chicago Motivator Award is the latest in LeFevre’s impressive list of credentials, some of which include: Chair of American Chemical Society (ACS) “Chem Matters” Advisory Board; Advisory Board Member ACS Chem Club; GK12 Reach for the Stars Teacher Fellow; ACS Salute to Excellence Great Lakes Region Award; Illinois Chemistry Teacher of the Year; and Nobel Educator Award.
LeFevre offers this advice, “Take on a growth mindset. If you fail something, it’s not the end of the world. Don’t stop what you’re doing. Find a way to get through it, challenge yourself, and pursue every opportunity you can.”
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