Alumni earn prestigious education honors

October 19, 2016

Three Michigan State University College of Education alumni were recently recognized for their outstanding teaching in mathematics and science. All three alumni are based in Michigan. They were honored by President Barack Obama in September, along with 210 other educators, with the prestigious Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

Since its inception in 1983, the award has recognized more than 4,700 K-12 educators across the country for their outstanding contributions in the classroom.

The 2016 PAEMST awardees for the MSU College of Education are:

Brian Langley

Photo courtesy of Kenny Felt.

Brian Langley
Physics teacher at Novi High School
Novi, Mich.

When it came to searching for where Brian Langley would go for college, MSU was the one and only choice.

“It felt like the perfect place,” said Langley, M.A. ’02 (Curriculum and Teaching), currently in his 17th year of teaching. “I was so thankful to have opportunities to find the path that fit me the best, and I really do believe that teaching was exactly the right thing for me.”

In addition to teaching physics at Novi High School, he is the physical science content area leader, and is co-leading the K-12 transition to the new Michigan Science Standards.

The PAEMST award also helps inspire Langley. His vision for his science classroom is one that includes reading and writing material with an active science environment. With this integration, students can engage and think about science in a new, comprehensive way. It is this focus on “science literacy” that helps bridge the gap between the past and the present for Langley.

“Science plays such a major role in our lives … Our students need to have some basic science literacy to understand what’s going on around them,” Langley said. “[The U.S.] is a country that has been built and prospered on innovation. STEM classes, in general, will foster the innovation of the future.”

Wendy Osterman

Photo courtesy of the National Science Foundation.

Wendy Osterman
District assessment coordinator in Bloomfield Hills Schools
Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

Wendy Osterman’s path to the field of education began at a young age, when she discovered her own love of learning and desire to make a difference. She started tutoring in high school.

“I found that making a difference in the life of a child was powerful and rewarding,” said Osterman, M.A. ’06 (Education). “I have not been let down by teaching. I have enthusiastically supported my young mathematicians as they learn and deepen their understanding by making connections, questioning and learning from mistakes.”

Osterman received the PAEMST for her work as a seventh-grade advanced mathematics teacher at Sashabaw Middle School, part of Clarkston Community Schools. In mid-October, she began her position as district assessment coordinator in Bloomfield Hills Schools. In total, she has 17 years of teaching experience, including sixth to 12th grade mathematics and computer courses. She spent the past 12 years at Sashabaw, but has also taught in the Rochester, Coldwater and Lakeshore school districts in Michigan.

Through it all, her education at Michigan State University has helped guide her.

“Attending MSU for my master’s in education was my first choice because of the outstanding reputation MSU has in their College of Education and the option for an online program,” said Osterman.

She worked through the program while balancing a full-time position and young children. “After only one and a half years, I graduated with more knowledge than I imagined. Online classes allowed collaboration from educators from great distances. The experiences helped me to understand other views and push my thinking. The professors challenged me and helped me grow tremendously as a teacher, leader and researcher.”

Photo courtesy of the National Science Foundation.

Photo courtesy of the National Science Foundation.

Francie Robertson
Fourth-grade teacher at Pine Tree Elementary
Lake Orion, Mich. 

Francie Robertson came to MSU with teaching already on her mind, in a way. She studied (and graduated in 2003 with a degree in) zoology, planning to teach educational programs at zoos. It was a job for which she needed a teaching certificate, which is how she initially came to the MSU College of Education.

After graduation, Robertson found a job teaching at Pine Tree Elementary, and simply never left.

“I found that I really liked teaching and I stuck with it,” said Robertson, M.A. ’08 (Curriculum and Teaching). “My entire life, I’ve worked with kids and I’ve always enjoyed teaching kids, but I didn’t think it would be like this.”

At Pine Tree Elementary, Robertson is a co-chair for the Math Committee and also represents the same committee at district meetings.

“I’m truly honored and humbled to win this award,” Robertson said. She credits the PAEMST award, in part, to the work of others, including professional development in her district, books she’s read and inspiration from colleagues. But it also has to do with her “growth mindset,” something that she focuses on in her classroom.

“It goes to show that if you have a growth mindset and you’re willing to work for something, you can do it,” she said. “The world is focused on creative, critical thinkers. At the elementary level, we have the opportunity to stem their interests; it’s what the kids at in fourth grade love. Kids can get the impression that math isn’t for them—but math isn’t a genetic thing. You can work at it, and get better.”

PAEMST winners receive a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation to be used at their discretion and an invitation to Washington, D.C. for an awards ceremony. More on the the PAEMST award can be found at