A Kalamazoo County educator known for instilling his students with his passion for computer science, encouraging them to pursue careers in that area, and for recruiting female students – who typically are under-represented in the field – to join his classes has been honored with an Excellence in Education award from the Michigan Lottery.
The award winner, Shannon Houtrouw, is a computer science and math teacher at the Kalamazoo Area Mathematics and Science Center, which is part of the Kalamazoo Public Schools. The center offers high school students half-day intensive courses in mathematics, sciences and computer science.
The Michigan Lottery established the Excellence in Education awards in 2014 to recognize outstanding public school educators across the state during the school year.
Winners of the weekly award receive a plaque, a $500 cash prize, and a $500 grant to their classroom, school or school district. One of the weekly winners will be selected as the Educator of the Year and will receive a $10,000 cash prize.
Each winner also is featured in a news segment on the Lottery’s media partner stations: WXYZ-TV in Detroit, FOX 17 in Grand Rapids, and FOX 47 in Lansing. The news segment featuring Houtrouw will air this evening in Grand Rapids and Lansing and then on Thursday in Detroit.
For the Excellence in Education awards program, the Lottery has teamed up with Michigan State University basketball coach Tom Izzo, who recently presented Houtrouw with the award at the Breslin Center.
“I caught the teaching bug while working as a software developer for General Motors and EDS. Once I started teaching, I never looked back. Teaching is my passion,” Houtrouw said.
He said that helping students reach their full potential is his favorite part of being an educator. “I love challenging ALL my students to not just succeed, but to excel. Seeing them make the pursuit of excellence a lifelong passion and watching them reap the benefits of doing so is one of the most exciting aspects of teaching. It is a reward in and of itself,” he said.
Houtrouw added that his students motivate him to do his best each day in the classroom. “My students enjoy my classes and I enjoy being with them. Learning computer science is fun. The students themselves are even more fun. Seeing them grow intellectually and personally also motivates me,” he said.
Several students nominated Houtrouw for the Excellence in Education award. One said that he should be recognized “because his dedication to his students, the Kalamazoo Area Mathematics and Science Center, and the greater computer science community is unmatched.”
“During the three years that I had Mr. Houtrouw as a teacher, I saw how he goes above and beyond to help all of his students find and create opportunities for their success and well-being. For example, Mr. Houtrouw is constantly busy registering for and arranging transportation to a ton of programming competitions across the state. Furthermore, his door is always open to students; I always felt welcome stopping by his classroom after school whether I plan to code or just sit and talk,” said the student, who now is in college.
“With everything Mr. Houtrouw does for his students, spending countless hours motivating, training, and pushing us to be ‘Code Warriors’ it’s not surprising that our computer science teams regularly win competitions,” the student wrote.
“Also, as a female, I will always be grateful to Mr. Houtrouw for his endless dedication to gender equality in computer science. Women currently represent less than 20 percent of the computer science industry and while initiatives recently have been launched to attract more women to the field, Mr. Houtrouw has been empowering women in computer science for more than two decades. He is a true pioneer in that regard,” she said, adding that in 2016, she and another one of Houtrouw’s students were among 35 winners of national awards from the National Center for Women & Information Technology. All told, five of Houtrouw’s students have won that national award over the past four years.
Another student described him as “truly an inspiration to all of his students. Mr. Houtrouw’s teaching style pushes students to solve problems independently and challenge themselves. Moreover, he consistently acknowledges and recognizes students who excel. He shares the accomplishments of students to his classes, which motivates other students to also achieve similar success. His everlasting encouragement has led me to further pursue computer science.”
Another student noted that “becoming one of his Code Warriors is a massive honor. Those who get to wear the jersey are the elite and are known to always be willing to help those who strive to achieve the goal. He inspires us not only in the classroom but in the real world as well. The man is a remarkable idol to look up to, even with his cringe-worthy computer science jokes. Every student is welcomed into his class and every student leaves as a better person. He helps every student believe in themselves.”
In 2015, Houtrouw was one of 10 Michigan finalists for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. That award is the highest honor for kindergarten-through-12th grade mathematics and science teachers. The program is administered by the National Science Foundation on behalf of the White House.
Houtrouw earned a bachelor of science degree in computer science from Oklahoma Christian University and a master of science degree in education with an emphasis on mathematics education from Harding University. He also holds master of arts degree in theological studies from Liberty University.
He has been an educator for 27 years, the last 20 years in his current position with the Kalamazoo Public Schools.
Excellence in Education award nominees are evaluated on the following criteria:
- Excellence – Their work consistently helps students and/or their schools or school districts advance to higher levels of academic achievement.
- Dedication – They consistently go above and beyond expectations to help students succeed.
- Inspiration – Their work inspires others around them to exceed expectations either academically or professionally.
- Leadership – They demonstrate clear leadership skills in their positions with their school or school districts.
- Effectiveness – The nominee’s work has clear and positive results on the educational advancement of students within the school or school district.