UNO alumna wins big with her love of science

Photo courtesy Ashley Morton

Ashley Morton

Lacy West, a science teacher at Missouri Valley Middle School and a graduate of the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO), thought she wanted to go into the medical field after high school.

West joined her local Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA) chapter to give it a whirl. Turns out, it wasn’t the right fit for her. A short time later, while contemplating what she wanted to do with her life, she came across some old papers from elementary school. One of those papers asked the question: what do you want to be when you grow up? West had an answer, “a teacher.”

After graduating from Missouri Valley High School in 2002, she attended UNO from 2002-2007. She took a job as a 7th grade science teacher at King Science and Technology Magnet (KTSM) in the fall of 2007 and stayed with them for five years. At the same time that King was undergoing staff changes, West got a call from the Missouri Valley Community School district to apply for a 7th and 8th grade science teacher position.

“It was a bittersweet decision, as I love King Science and the staff and students, however, the opportunity might only happen once for this position,” West said. “It’s my hometown, it’s where I grew up, it was where I was living, so I gave it a chance.”

That chance, and her love for science, paid off.

On Jan. 7, West discovered she was one of six recipients for the 2019 I.O.W.A STEM teacher award. The STEM award is given to teachers in Iowa who, without fail, inspire their students to dig into, and grow, a passion for STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering, and math. The recipient is awarded $3,000 and West already has big plans for the money.

“My hope is to give my students the opportunity to see STEM in real life applications and careers,” West said. “Before this, my students had to pay a fee to attend STEM days. This will allow me to purchase the supplies needed to provide STEM opportunities for my students.”

To, those who know her it is no surprise that West won. Megan West, Lacy’s coworker, best friend and sister-in-law, knows West from all different aspects.

“Lacy has a huge heart when it comes to her students and she’s always had a deep passion for science and technology.” Megan said. “She began pushing for a STEM program her first year to get the students involved.”

West’s love of science has always been a part of her life.

“Science fascinated me all through school,” West said. “I wanted to figure out the answers. I wanted to see how things worked. I wanted to do hands-on experiments.”

Now West will get to pass her love of all thing’s science on to her students, thanks to the STEM award.

“I love when the students are excited about something happening in my class – when you have the next hour students coming in pumped for science because they just heard in the hall that class today is pretty exciting,” West said.

West doesn’t believe in handing out worksheets or sitting down for a lecture. Her students have standup desks and work in groups 90 percent of the time. To say there’s never a dull moment would be an understatement.

“I’m a big believer in moving to learn,” West said. “We stretch and exercise at the start of class, we move around to mix with the other groups, we dance and do actions to learn, and create skits and game shows to study.”

West isn’t just focused on sharing her love of just science with her students. She also has a deep passion for making connections with some of the ‘harder’ students, the ones who really don’t like school or struggle because science is hard.

“I foster a classroom setting that we care about everyone and we don’t let anyone struggle in my room,” West said. “If you see someone struggling, help them or ask me to help them. This helps build a very trusting and safe environment for the students.”

With big dreams and even bigger ideas on the horizon, science teacher Lacy West has the whole town, and especially her students, cheering her on.