Buckner has been named a semifinalist in the Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship program. Last week, she completed interviews with seven different departments that participate in the program.
“If I don’t go any further, what an honor!” she said. “What an honor to even be considered.”
The Bradley Central High School science teacher was one of 40 kindergarten through 12th grade teachers from across the nation who interviewed in Washington, D.C., for a spot as a fellow.
Buckner said she had been a semifinalist last year, but was not called for an interview. This year she was in the top 25 of the semifinalists. She was also the only person to have more than five interviews. She interviewed for one NASA position and six NSF positions.
“I see this as a chance to participate and to help give back to NSF who in so many ways gave so much to me,” she said. “The chance to go and make a difference on a national level.”
She said grew up in a small town in Virginia.
“To this day there’s still not a stoplight. Very humble beginnings, yet God has given me opportunities. And with my education, I’ve had the opportunity to travel and to teach literally around the world,” Buckner said. “I think it’s important to follow your dreams and to give back.”
She said people often limit their dreams based on what others have said.
“The sky is not the limit. It can’t be the limit because man has walked on the moon,” she said. “The only way we can limit ourselves is if we listen to others who say what the limitations are.”
Buckner said a current fellow has written a bill being considered in Congress because of his work on Capital Hill.
“If I end up working with NASA, I could be working on curriculum for the James Webb telescope,” she said.
Fellowships she interviewed for with the National Science Foundation give fellows opportunities to be a part of awarding science education grants, researching new technology, mentoring students as they learn how to do independent research and other research-based opportunities.
She said she knows one of the current fellows, someone who had only two interviews and was then chosen.
“So I thought if I could get three or four, that would be awesome,” she added.
As excited as she was to interview for the program, Buckner said she did not discuss the program too much with her students because the experience seemed so surreal.
While she was in Washington, D.C., she also had the opportunity to talk to other teachers interviewing for fellowship positions. She said she enjoyed talking to teachers from around the country who teach in her content area.
On the initial application, each prospect fellow indicates which departments’ fellowships they would be interested in. She indicated she was interested in all the departments on her application. Buckner first heard about the fellowship program in November 2011 while attending a Mars Educator Conference.
She said she hopes her interviews demonstrated she would be a good fit with one of the departments.
“One of the most amazing things is how much they value you as a K-12 educator,” she said.
She said the fellowship program treats the teachers as experts in their area as science, technology, engineering and math teachers.
If she receives a fellowship opportunity, she would be taking a leave of absence from the school to live and work in Washington, D.C.
Buckner should know if she has been selected within the next week and a half.