Press Releases

2024 2023 2022 2021

Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes Welcomes Second Week of 2024 Fellows to Fort Scott, Kansas

Educators collaborate in powerful project-based learning to discover, develop and communicate stories of Unsung Heroes who have changed the course history

June 24, 2024

FORT SCOTT, Kan. – The Lowell Milken Center (LMC) for Unsung Heroes awarded its prestigious Fellowship to 12 educators from Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, Wyoming; and Ontario, Canada. The Fellowship is divided into two cohorts: Five educators collaborated with LMC staff last week and seven are in Fort Scott this week. 

Established in 2007 as a partnership between philanthropist and education visionary Lowell Milken and 1992 Kansas Milken Educator and history teacher Norm Conard, the international nonprofit LMC transforms classrooms and communities through student-driven projects that discover Unsung Heroes from history. 

The LMC Fellowship is a merit-based award for educators of all disciplines who value the importance of teaching respect and understanding through project-based learning. LMC selects exemplary teachers from the U.S. and globally who will engage in projects that discover, develop and communicate the stories of Unsung Heroes in history. 

Here are the seven extraordinary LMC Fellows in Week 2, beginning June 24: 

Sarah Espinal is a 2023 LMC Discovery Award Winner and social studies teacher at Jericho Middle School and High School in New York. She wants her students to be deeply informed about their learning, and her fluency in English and Spanish allows her to interact with them on a greater level. What's more, Sarah's emphasis on identifying the bias and credibility of sources helps her students make informed decisions in life. Sarah encourages her students to participate in National History Day, with many winning awards. Sarah was chosen to participate in Revolutionary Ideals, an NHD professional development program about the founding era of our country, strengthening the knowledge of teachers and their students. She will join one of her students to represent New York at the first-ever Young People's Continental Congress in Philadelphia to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the First Continental Congress of 1774.

Elisabeth "Bibba" Kahn is the 2020 Vermont Teacher of the Year and a middle school French and Spanish educator at Main Street Middle School in Montpelier. She believes learning a new language begins with valuing people from different cultures and backgrounds. She gives her students real-world experiences with language, and bases her success as an educator on the success of her students' learning. Bibba's successes include her students’ annual 8th-grade trip to Quebec and the programs she led to Europe and Africa for Putney Student Travel. She earned National Board Certification in French and has been a member of her school's Guiding Coalition, Technology Committee, and her district's Equity Team. Bibba has served as a mentor to new faculty and on the board of the Vermont Foreign Language Association. She was recognized with the 2011 Irene C. Abbe Award for Excellence in Teaching and as a 2018 UVM Outstanding Teacher. 

Leah Lawrence is a 2023 Missouri Milken Educator and middle school English Language Arts educator at Hardin Middle School in St. Charles. Whether it's the use of Play-Doh relating to the steps of the writing process or flyswatters that "swat" away errors, Leah's creative instructional strategies keep her students engaged in their learning and foster their desire to reach their educational goals. Her adaptability in the classroom offers every level of learner the opportunity to succeed. Leah mentors new teachers, is the ELA department chair, serves as a member of the school climate committee, and participates on the district professional development team. Through these leadership roles, her classroom experiences are valuable assets in her advocacy for meeting the needs and goals of all students. 

Ashley Libben is a 2016 U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Fellow and middle school English Language Arts educator at West Noble Middle School in Ligonier, Indiana. Ashley's use of project-based learning in the study of The Diary of Anne Frank yields deep exploration, research, questions and reflection among her eighth graders. Based on many years of Holocaust instruction, Ashley created an annual student-made pop-up museum with a colleague that honored and shared the stories of Holocaust victims. While the job of teaching research and writing could be accomplished with any topic, those experiences with the Holocaust connected her students to a significant time in history. Ashley expanded her expertise through her leadership role in the Indiana Holocaust Educators Network, conducting seminars for fellow teachers and leading Skype sessions with her students during her trip to Terezin. 

Matthew Mayeske is a 2023 Kansas Milken Educator and social studies teacher at Gardner-Edgerton High School in Gardner. His world history and geography classes come alive for his ninth and tenth grade students through the integration of real-world scenarios with collaborative, inquiry-based instruction. In yearlong roleplaying games, students create characters and participate in simulation activities. They immerse themselves in a French Revolution simulation, a strategy-style conflict activity to illustrate WWI diplomacy, or a study of interactive maps using GIS technology. Matthew heads the Climate and Culture Committee and is a member of the school's Building Leadership Team and SITE Council, which reviews and evaluates school improvement initiatives. He served as a keynote speaker at district gatherings and drives professional development activities. Matthew was named the USD 231 Secondary Teacher of the Year in 2022. 

Kelly Steffen is a 2019 Gilder Lehrman Iowa History Teacher of the Year and a social studies teacher at Vinton-Shellsburg High School in Vinton. She is a master at engaging her students through relevance and the use of primary sources. She encourages students to analyze history, politics, and diverse perspectives, then draw conclusions about their impact on today's world. Kelly hopes students learn that history can help them make informed decisions. This summer Kelly will attend the NEH Heart Mountain Seminar to learn more about the effects of Japanese internment/incarceration, another powerful resource for her students. She and her students host the Cold War Museum to engage community members and administrators in student work. Other times, Kelly invites local veterans to speak about their experiences.

Ann Marie Vanneste received Canada's Prime Minister's Award for Teaching Excellence for 2023 and is a Civics, Careers, Religion, and Learning Strategies educator from Kanata, Ontario. She received the 2023 Director of Education Award in recognition of her contribution to the Ottawa Catholic School Board, and the 2024 Women Of Courage Award presented by The Emmett Till Legacy Foundation. Devoted to inclusion in education, Ann Marie helps her students identify their unique strengths and cultivate pride in their individual cultural places in the world. Collaboration and communication are the hallmarks of her teaching practice. She builds meaningful relationships with students and colleagues to impart knowledge and life skills to adapt to a challenging world. Ann Marie has led initiatives to develop a school environment centered on respect and equity. As a hurdler and scholarship athlete at Louisiana State University, she coaches and helps students find their strengths.

About LMC

Established in 2007 as a partnership between philanthropist and education visionary Lowell Milken and 1992 Kansas Milken Educator and history teacher Norm Conard, the international Lowell Milken Center (LMC) for Unsung Heroes works with students and educators across diverse academic disciplines to develop history projects that highlight role models who demonstrate courage, compassion and respect. Through a unique project-based learning approach, students discover, develop and communicate the stories of Unsung Heroes who have made a profound and positive impact on the course of history. By championing these Unsung Heroes, students, educators and communities discover their own responsibility to effect positive change in the world. LMC has reached over 3,000,000 students worldwide through its online projects, educator resources and student competitions. The Fort Scott headquarters has welcomed visitors from all 50 states and around the world. For more information, visit