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2017 Lowell Milken Center Fellows Attending Second Week of Programming Announced

May 30, 2017

FORT SCOTT, Kan., – The Lowell Milken Center (LMC) for Unsung Heroes in Fort Scott, Kansas, an international educational non-profit, has awarded its prestigious Fellowship to twelve outstanding individuals for 2017. LMC is pleased to announce the remaining five Fellows, including a teacher from Estonia, attending the second week of special programming at the facility, starting on June 25, 2017.

The LMC Fellowship is awarded on the basis of merit to educators who have distinguished themselves in teaching respect and understanding through project-based learning or who have the potential for this distinction. The Center selects exemplary teachers from across America and Europe, drawn from a variety of disciplines, to collaborate on projects that discover, develop, and communicate the stories of Unsung Heroes in history.

While in Fort Scott, LMC Fellows gain knowledge, educational resources and ongoing support to enhance their classrooms and help students cultivate a passion for learning by creating projects that initiate positive change. Fellows emerge prepared to develop Unsung Heroes projects with their students as they apply and evaluate the stories of role models who have changed the world throughout history.

These five educators will begin a week of collaboration with LMC staff, starting June 25, 2017:

lindsey dowell

Lindsey Dowell

School:  Washburn Rural High School

Subject:  Gifted Facilitator

City:  Topeka, Kansas

Lindsey Dowell's students won the National High School Division in the Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes Discovery Award. Under Lindsey's guidance, her students developed a documentary about Mitsuye Endo, a woman who challenged Japanese-American internment all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court and won in 1944 to end the internment. With their amazing showing of global knowledge, Lindsey's students also won the 13th Annual Academic WorldQuest competition in Kansas City, qualifying them for the national competition in Washington, D.C.

Lindsey is from Topeka, Kansas, and is an outstanding project-based learning expert and project maker. She has also been very involved in preparing her students for History Day competitions. Due to Lindsey's excellent instruction, her students have won numerous national awards.

LMC Executive Director Norm Conard says, "Lindsey is a project maker, one whose students develop the great skills of project-based learning. We are excited to see her expertise used to develop unsung hero/role model stories. She cultivates the strengths of her students."


merit karise

Merit Karise

School:  Kuressaare Regional Training Centre

Subject:  Creativity and Design, English

City/Country:  Kuressaare, Estonia

Merit Karise is an outstanding creativity and design teacher, and a Global Teacher Prize Finalist. Merit was voted Teacher of the Year by the Kuressaare Regional Training Centre, received a national award for Best Internet Course in Social Sciences at Tartu Art School, and won several prizes in EU video-making contests with her students.

In 2010, Merit set up a non-governmental organization (NGO) to promote the folklore and heritage of Saaremaa (the island where she lives and works), focusing on world cultures, innovation and activism in social life. Among other projects, the organization created a website featuring hundreds of local folksongs and folktales, educational online-games, and produced a documentary film about local folk traditions; their work also contributed the winning idea to the 50th jubilee song festival of the region. These local projects are complemented by her overseeing her school's coordination of an EU Comenius project involving vocational schools, colleges, and universities in nine countries to build e-tools for integrated teaching of design and STEM subjects. In addition, she writes Op-Ed articles for national newspapers on culture and education, and is also a member of the Kuressaare City Council, where she coordinated the launch of the town's first participatory budget.

LMC Executive Director Norm Conard says, "Merit is another in a long line of outstanding international educators at the Lowell Milken Center. Her work in creative project-based teaching has directed her students to win numerous awards in Europe. Estonia can be proud."


ricardo larios

Ricardo Larios

School:  Waldo Middle School

Subject:  AVID Coordinator

City:  Salem, Oregon

Ricardo Larios, a bilingual 2015 Milken Educator, is the first in his family to go to college. Ricardo's value for education and opportunity has been integral in growing a college-readiness program at Waldo Middle School in Salem. The program, called AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), targets students who are first in their family to go to college and is centered on developing the knowledge and skills students need to be successful in school and in life. He has participated in a summer literacy transition academy to help students transition from middle school to high school, and helps coordinate a leadership class that raises money and collects diapers for community programs. The one-time AmeriCorps teacher is also the head track coach who turned the school's program around, and grew it from 40 to 140 students while never slowing his own pace for positive change. Ricardo mentors teachers from Willamette University in the Salem Clinical Teacher Program. 

As the child of Mexican immigrants, Ricardo is dedicated to teaching students with backgrounds similar to his about their options for the future. "Setbacks are set-ups for greatness," he tells his students. Larios asks his students to consider different professions and invites community leaders to visit his class to talk about their careers. He also helps students with organizational skills, questioning techniques, and self-reflective activities that enable his students to see themselves as powerful people who can effect change for themselves. Students are determined to live up to his expectations. The statistics bear this out: 99% of his previous AVID students are accepted into a university or a community college.

LMC Executive Director Norm Conard says, "Ricardo excels in a field we consider so important in American education. He is an effective educator and demonstrates strong, dynamic leadership in his classroom and his school. He has an extraordinary enthusiasm for his passion."


deanna leblanc

Deanna LeBlanc

School:  Fernley Intermediate School

Subject:  5th Grade Math and Science

City:  Fernley, Nevada

Deanna LeBlanc has been an educator for fifteen years, including work as an elementary school teacher, special education teacher, and instructional coach in Northern Nevada. She was named the Nevada Teacher of the Year for 2012, in part because of her work with struggling learners in her classroom. She earned a Master's degree in STEM education for elementary school, and continues to work in staff development for her district.

Deanna assists her colleagues with their struggling learners as a member of the Instructional Consultation Team. She believes in holding students to high expectations, and she regards science education to be an important pathway to improving reading and math achievement as well as critical thinking skills. Deanna has given a Ted Talk and produced an educational video with valuable advice for other teachers. She also created a non-profit called Fernley STEM Council (

LMC Executive Director Norm Conard says, "Special Education is often overlooked in awards programs and with Deanna we want to make a statement about the needs of all children. Project-based learning and Unsung Heroes fit the curriculum in every classroom."


bill smithyman

Bill Smithyman

School:  Blue Valley Northwest High School

Subject:  English/Language Arts

City:  Overland Park, Kansas

Bill Smithyman is a 2015 Milken Educator and a National Board Certified teacher who is a mentor to many and admired for his teaching expertise. Bill leads Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) at the school to prepare students for college and career. He serves on the building's leadership team, oversees the school's advisory program and, together with another colleague, he is currently developing a student leadership program. His professional learning community is among the strongest in the district.

Smithyman's students produce strong results and consistently score higher than district, state and national averages. One indicator of this success is his sophomore students' performance on the PSAT during the beginning of their junior year. The average composite score of his 10th grade ELA students is over 181, compared to the state (153), Midwest region (150) and nation (142). Other evidence is represented in last year's AP Language scores, the highest in the school's 22-year history—also beating national averages. According to colleagues and students, Bill has a reputation for being witty, smart, approachable, and generous with his time. He is a lifelong learner and continually strives to become a better teacher. Consequently, students receive many outstanding life lessons because they know that Mr. Smithyman understands their lives and problems and will give great advice.

LMC Executive Director Norm Conard says, "Bill is a dynamic, caring educator. His student performance scores are indicative of his outstanding teaching. Bill has already been involved with the Center and we are anticipating another outstanding Fellowship."

About Lowell Milken Center (LMC) for Unsung Heroes
Established in 2007, the Lowell Milken Center (LMC) for Unsung Heroes works to transform classrooms and communities through student-driven projects that discover Unsung Heroes from history and teach the power of one to create positive change. To date, LMC has reached over 1,300,000 students and 8,500 schools in all 50 states, with growing global reach. Learn more about LMC at and connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

Sabrina Skacan
Media Relations Manager
310-570-4773 Office 310-989-5875 Cell