2018 Award Recipients

The North Carolina Association for Biomedical Research bestows its Distinguished Teaching Award in STEM Education to one or more recipients in the field of K–16 STEM education each year. The awards are designed to recognize educators at the elementary, middle and high school levels, and higher education faculty who have made extraordinary contributions to the field of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. The number of awards given each year is at the discretion of the Awards and Recognitions Committee.

Our 2018 Award Recipients are:

Michelle Smith

Distinguished Teaching Award in STEM Education

K-12 Recipient

Michelle teaches Technology, Engineering and Design at Tucker Creek Middle School in Havelock, N.C. She majored in Agricultural Education with a minor in Animal Science from North Carolina State University and has taught at the middle and high school levels in Morehead City, Newport and Havelock for the past 23 years. In Carteret County, she began the Project Lead the Way pre-engineering courses for that county. As a Kenan Fellow, she further developed instructional material for pre-engineering courses in collaboration with the Department of Defense’s Fleet Readiness Center East. In Craven County she instructs STEM education through modular delivery environments, and she has been selected to pilot new curriculum delivery models for Pitsco Education.

Rita Hagevik, Ph.D.

Distinguished Teaching Award in STEM Education

Higher Education Recipient

Rita is an Associate Professor at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke who began her career as an Elementary and Middle School teacher in the Wake County Public Schools. She worked at the K-12 level for 11 years and during that time, she returned to graduate school where she went on to earn a Ph.D. from the Department of Math, Science and Technology Education at North Carolina State University. Her contributions to STEM education include designing more than 30 college courses, authoring 96 publications and garnering 39 grant awards. She has served as a member of the editorial review board, or has reviewed 11 professional journals as well as having served on numerous national, state, university and public school boards and committees. Rita exemplifies the BTG spirit in her work through her Baldhead Island course work for undergraduates and through her Kids in the Garden project, where she is involving university and K-12 STEM students in field-based STEM activities.

Melani Duffrin, Ph.D, and Chris Duffrin, Ph.D.

Leadership Award in STEM Education


Melani Duffrin accepted the joint award for herself and Chris Duffrin, who was unable to attend the conference.

Melani and Chris are two Bridging the Gap founders who saw the need in 2010 for NCABR to develop a conference that would bridge the K-12 and higher education gap. At the time, the Duffrins both were faculty at East Carolina University with Melani in the Department of Nutrition Science and Chris with the East Carolina University Brody School of Medicine. Chris also served as the Treasurer of the NCABR board, a position he held for 11 years.

Chris is now Dean of the College of Education and Health Services at Benedictine University and Melani is now a Professor in the Department of Health and Human Sciences at Northern Illinois University.