Texas State University Named 2020 Excellence in Innovation Recipient by Phi Kappa Phi

Inside TXST

Texas State University | May 26, 2020

Ortiz next to a sign
Dr. Araceli Martinez Ortiz, executive director of university’s LBJ Institute for STEM Education and Research, and research associate professor of engineering education in College of Education, launched FAMA in 2013.

Texas State University was named the 2020 Excellence in Innovation Award recipient on May 26 by the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi, the country’s oldest and most selective collegiate honor society for all academic disciplines. 

The $100,000 award, given biennially, recognizes Texas State for achievement in academic program delivery in science and mathematics while helping increase interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers for K-12 students through the NASA Future Aerospace Engineers and Mathematicians Academy (FAMA), a hallmark program of the university’s LBJ Institute for STEM Education and Research. 

“Phi Kappa Phi is proud to recognize Texas State University for its highly innovative project in STEM education and bilingual community outreach,” said Society Executive Director Dr. Mary Todd. “The jury was impressed with the comprehensive nature of FAMA and its mission to underserved students, a fine example of the creative and groundbreaking programming our Excellence in Innovation Award was designed to honor and uplift.”

FAMA was launched in 2013 by Dr. Araceli Martinez Ortiz, executive director of the university’s LBJ Institute for STEM Education and Research, and research associate professor of engineering education in the College of Education. Designed using Dr. Ortiz’s innovative model for STEM Education Transformation, FAMA provides integrated year-round STEM programming to economically disadvantaged and historically underrepresented student populations by engaging them in relevant STEM experiences with a focus on NASA contexts. 

“I am incredibly honored to receive this recognition on behalf of our wonderful FAMA team.  This includes the San Marcos, Seguin and Lockhart School District leaders along with our longtime partner, the Centro Cultural Hispano de San Marcos,” said Dr. Ortiz. “All have been steadfast in their encouragement of STEM learning for students in our communities and in their commitment to sustain this program after grant funding has concluded.  I also want to thank the fantastic people at NASA, our external funder, who supported our program from the onset and helped us to inspire our brilliant young people to understand that with preparation and awareness, they can succeed in attaining college degrees in science, engineering or mathematics. With these degrees they can participate in NASA’s mission of driving advances in science, technology, aeronautics, and space exploration.”

Over the past seven years, the FAMA project has expanded to included four main programs: STEM Saturday and Summer Camps, the NASA Backpack Program, Technology-Rich Environments and Experiences, and Bilingual Family Community Outreach. The operation has grown from serving 20 students in one community center to a community-adopted program serving more than 5,600 students in four school districts. 

Texas State, on behalf of its efforts through FAMA, was selected as the 2020 recipient of the Excellence in Innovation Award by a jury of emeritus university presidents during a two-part screening process. The pool of entries represented inventive, multifaceted projects at institutions across the United States. Each institution was assessed on its project’s ability to achieve meaningful, measurable outcomes to create systemic large-scale change.

“As a proud member of Phi Kappa Phi, it is a great honor to be chosen as the winner of the Excellence in Innovation Award,” said Texas State President Denise M. Trauth. “We deeply value our NASA Future Aerospace Engineers and Mathematicians Academy as it advances STEM education and research. It is a wonderful tribute to Dr. Ortiz and the team of hard-working faculty and staff that the Academy has gained this recognition. I think it is especially fitting that tomorrow, May 27, SpaceX is scheduled to launch two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station in the first-ever crewed test flight of the Crew Dragon astronaut taxi. This historic event reinforces how important it is to have children exposed to STEM early so they can become the future mathematicians, scientists, engineers, and astronauts advancing our world.”

Since 1932, Phi Kappa Phi has awarded fellowships and grants to members and students on its chapter campuses. Nearly $1 million is awarded each year through programs that last year recognized over 350 individuals. The Excellence in Innovation Award, first awarded in 2016, is the Society’s only award for institutions.

For more information, contact University Communications:

Jayme Blaschke, 512-245-2555

Sandy Pantlik, 512-245-2922