The annual Bridge Builder Award, bestowed by TechPoint Foundation for Youth, is dedicated to honoring exceptional individuals who have made significant contributions to transforming Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education for Indiana students, particularly those typically underrepresented in the tech workforce. 

Aptly named, the award honors those who have worked to overcome obstacles that have kept students from beginning or continuing their interest in these topics and thus have been excluded from STEM-focused careers

Last year’s winner was Indianapolis native Captain Ryan Lynch, a Republic Airways commercial airline pilot, founder of the National Aviation Youth Resources (NAYR) Foundation and director of the Indianapolis/Indiana ACE Academy. Lynch’s programs have reached more than 16,000 students and helped more than 10,000 young people take steps towards fulfilling their aviation-related dreams.

As Indiana works across all fronts and sectors to develop and grow its tech talent pipeline, bridge builders are even more important to the state’s economic success.

Each of the four contenders for the 2024 award has made significant impact in this arena. These short descriptions are a sliver of their life’s work, and we encourage you to follow each nominee to learn more about them and understand their deep and ongoing dedication to serving Indiana’s youth.

Only one will claim the Bridge Builder Award winner, which for the first time will be revealed on the TechPoint Mira Gala Awards stage.

The nominees are:

Jake Koressel, Director of Teaching and Learning for the Indiana Department of Education. Koressel has demonstrated exceptional dedication and leadership in STEM education, particularly in computer science (CS.) He began his IDOE career as a CS specialist and worked his way up to his current role. By spearheading initiatives to incorporate CS into the curriculum for students from kindergarten through grade 12, Koressel has significantly expanded access to STEM learning opportunities for Indiana’s youth and is directly working to overcome the underrepresentation in the field. Koressel works to execute state law that requires all Indiana public high schools, including charter schools, offer at least one CS course as an elective annually. His commitment to accountability and transparency is evident in his leadership in preparing annual reports on the implementation of CS courses in public high schools, as well as K-8 implementation. By disaggregating data based on factors like race, gender, grade, ethnicity and socioeconomic status, he ensures the impact of STEM education initiatives is measured comprehensively and that targeted interventions can be implemented where necessary. He has a forward-thinking mindset focused on equipping students with the 21st-century skills necessary for success in higher education and beyond. His efforts to make CS accessible to all have had a tangible impact on Indiana’s underserved youth population, bridging the gap and paving the way for a more inclusive and equitable future in STEM.

Michi McClaine

Michi McClaine, Vice President of Talent Development at Regional Opportunity Initiatives (ROI): In her role at ROI and with her team, McClaine has significantly impacted the lives of thousands of K-6 students in 27 schools in 11 Southern Indiana counties by fostering STEM learning experiences and empowering educators to become advocates for STEM education in their classrooms and communities. Serving students in Brown, Crawford, Daviess, Dubois, Greene, Lawrence, Martin, Monroe, Orange, Owen and Washington counties, ROI promotes diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging in STEM education, provides educators with professional development opportunities, hands-on STEM experiences and engaging curriculum to inspire students to pursue STEM interests and explore career opportunities. It’s STEM Fellowship, for example, is a year-long professional development program to help teachers integrate STEM concepts and employability skills into daily instruction. Fellows meet monthly to learn new and engaging ways to build STEM knowledge and skills in their classrooms and strategies to help their colleagues grow as STEM educators. Fellows are compared to “pebbles in a pond” in that one enthusiastic STEM champion can have a huge impact. The initiative develops leaders and STEM experts who provide support to colleagues; model innovative STEM lessons; participate in professional development activities focused on experiential learning, engineering design process, project-based learning, computer science and other relevant topics; and actively contribute to the region’s STEM teacher network.

 Antonia “Toni” Mungui, Director of Recruitment, Retention, and Diversity at Purdue Polytechnic: Munguia has made valuable contributions student success by dramatically increasing the number of female and underrepresented students enrolled at Purdue Polytechnic Institute. She has improved the retention and graduation rates of underrepresented minority students by record-setting percentages. She offers encouragement, inspires students to follow their dreams and is committed to advancing Purdue Polytechnic as a beacon for diversity and inclusion in higher education. For more than 20 years, Mungui has developed multiple programs specifically for women and underrepresented minority high school students. She was the driving force behind the growth of the VISION and TOTAL camps and leveraged that success to expand the model to target other pre-college students. She created, planned and implemented multiple outreach and recruitment camp programs to educate under-represented and female students about STEM careers and college majors, including their parents in the effort. She also leads and creates retention programs within the Purdue Polytechnic. Her work on diversity has propelled Purdue as a leader in inclusive excellence. Beyond Purdue, she has partnered with faculty on research and conference presentations focused on attracting and retaining underserved population and female STEM graduates and female leadership. In her time at Purdue Polytechnic, the organization has increased overall enrollment by 53 percent, increased under-represented minority students by 69 percent and women by by 110 percent.

Rico Francis

Rico Francis, Social Impact Director at Pacers Foundation – Pacers Sports & Entertainment: Francis saw the NBA Math Hoops program as an opportunity to work with Indiana schools systems rather than just give them additional work. The program provides students in urban and rural settings world class opportunities, quality entertainment and unparalleled service. Program leaders and educators use the state, city and Gainbridge Fieldhouse as an extension of the classroom to amplify STEM education and Indiana-based STEM careers. The program helps build fundamental math and social-emotional skillsfor students in grades 4-8 through a physical and digital basketball-themed board game, curriculum and a community program experience. The free program develops students’ algebra readiness for high school and strengthens important skills including self-regulation and executive function. Educators involved with NBA Math Hoops are “coaches” for the program who integrate it into their classroom routine using it as a before, during and after school tool. The program uses the diversity of NBA/WNBA staff and players to promote diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging in STEM education, and to also fight the STEM gender gap. Workforce development is also baked into the program, giving students and educators access to employees from Pacers Sports & Entertainment and Eli Lilly & Company. In his time with the program, Francis has tripled the number of students enrolled and doubled the number of school sites that signed up to participate in the program.  

The award winner will be announced at the 25th annual TechPoint Mira Awards gala Friday, April 26, 2024, at the Old National Centre in Indianapolis. The event is presented by the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, Salesforce and a host of the state’s most innovative companies, universities and organizations.   See that growing list, learn more and get your tickets here.