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2023 Awardee

David B. Hartnett Award
for Public Engagement with Science


2023 Awardee

K-12 STEM Community Builder

We are delighted to announce Dr. Maria Misiura as the inaugural winner of the David B. Hartnett Award for Public Engagement with Science. Maria is currently a post-doctoral researcher at GSU in the Dotson Aging Well for Everyone lab and communications manager for the Center for Translational Research in Neuroimaging & Data Science (TReNDS Center). Her life as a scientist has her researching predictors of brain health in young and older adults with a focus on neuroimaging. But it is her commitment to scientific outreach that has won her this distinction.

Beginning with her time in graduate school at GSU, Maria took on an extra role as communications coordinator for all Atlanta Science Festival activities at GSU. She helped push out the incredible events at GSU to students at underserved metro-Atlanta schools. Seeing the impact that these events had on the community, she was driven to do more and specifically try to start working her own neuroscience research into outreach events. With that drive, in the last two years alone, Maria organized and participated in 17 outreach events from science open houses to educational events about meditation.

Maria not only puts herself out in the community sharing her love of neuroscience, she is also extremely passionate about training the next generation of scientists to be better communicators of their own science. She mentors a number of graduate and undergraduate students in the lab, and teaches that an integral part of lab training is the need to share lab findings with the broader community. To that end, Maria also regularly hosts science communication workshops to help students at GSU value outreach and improve their ability to talk about their science with the public.

Maria has big plans to use her award money to further build up the neuroscience-based outreach community in Atlanta. We are so excited to have selected Maria for the inaugural David B. Hartnett Award for Public Engagement with Science and can’t wait to work with her on her outreach efforts!

The David B. Hartnett Award for Public Engagement with Science honors an Atlanta-based scientist or engineer who has shown excellence in their commitment to making Atlanta a “science city” by sharing science with the public. The selected recipient shows passion and enthusiasm for science/engineering and shares their knowledge and excitement with public audiences. The recipient receives a monetary prize of $1000, plus up to an additional $1000 to support a public engagement event created in partnership with Science ATL. 

This award is named for Science ATL champion and friend, David B. Hartnett. David currently serves as the Chief Economic Development Officer at the Metro Atlanta Chamber and was the founding Board Chairman of Atlanta Science Festival – now Science ATL. David was the spark that brought the Festival to life in 2014, seeing the vision of the founders and helping to make it a reality. In his everyday work, David seeks to make Atlanta a better place and sees the work of Science ATL as instrumental in creating a city that values science.

If you were to ask students and teachers at M.E. Stilwell School of the Arts who in the building has raised their awareness and interest in STEM?, chances are the response would be Ms. Rajini Sundararaj, their beloved internationally recognized science teacher. Mrs. Sundararaj’s 20+ years of education experience combined with her passion for making STEM accessible has led to her shaping the lives of hundreds of students across three continents.

From early in her career, Mrs. Sundararaj recognized the need for schools to develop sound partnerships with universities, non-profits, and industry professionals to expose underrepresented students not only to STEM pathways in general, but to STEM professionals who were reflections of her students. Her participation in programs such as GIFT Program at Georgia Tech laboratories and the GEAR UP Program at the University of West Georgia allowed her students first hand access to STEM on the collegiate level. This dedication to equity allows her students to see themselves as not just students in a science class, but curious life long learners inspired to create change in the world of STEM.

Not only is her drive reflected in the achievements of students under her tutelage, but also in the drive she helped to instill in her fellow Stilwell educators and STEM partners, with whom she collaborated to bring school and county wide STEM experiences. In sharing their experiences with her, Mrs. Sundararaj’s colleagues and partners also noted her ability to include them in STEM spaces they traditionally may not have access to, including them in planning processes and championing their ideas to both her Stilwell family and other STEM partners. Through these efforts she has been able to craft a robust ecosystem of partners and educators who collaborate to continually bring students and their families unique and inspiring STEM experiences.

It is due to these accomplishments that Science ATL is proud to present Mrs. Rajini Sundararaj with our inaugural K-12 STEM Community Builder Award. Through her accomplishments she has achieved the embodiment of a quote by which she lives, to be the change she wishes to see in the world. Science ATL is proud to celebrate Mrs. Sundararaj and look forward to supporting her efforts to continue to expand STEM access throughout her school and community.

The K-12 STEM Community Builder Award recognizes a metro Atlanta K-12 educator who is enriching the STEM/STEAM culture at their school. The winner demonstrates leadership and excellence in implementing curricular/extracurricular activities, engaging under-represented students in STEM, increasing exposure to careers, and facilitating external partnerships to build a rich STEM community centered at the school. One winner will be selected to receive a $1000 cash prize for personal use, and their school will receive an additional $1000 to support further STEM/STEAM initiatives.

Founded by: Emory University Georgia Institute of Technology Metro Atlanta Chamber

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