Meet Jen Chavez-Miller: 2020 National Geographic Gilbert M. Grosvenor Educator of the Year

This post was written by Vicki Phillips, Chief Education Officer, National Geographic Society.

If there is one thing we can’t say enough to educators, it is “Thank you.” The National Geographic Gilbert M. Grosvenor Educator of the Year award is an opportunity to do just that—to show our profound appreciation for an individual who’s demonstrated exceptional achievement in education.

I’m honored to share that this year’s award recipient is Jen Chavez-Miller, a veteran educator, National Geographic Teacher Advisory Council member, and Fulbright Scholar. Jen is only the second educator to receive this distinguished honor. It was created in 2019 to celebrate teachers focused on igniting curiosity, fostering cultural understanding, and setting new benchmarks to empower the next generation of learners, leaders, and solution seekers for our planet.

Veteran educator Jen Chavez-Miller is the 2020 recipient of the National Geographic Gilbert M. Grosvenor Educator of the Year award. Photo courtesy Jen Chavez-Miller.

During her two decades as an elementary and middle school teacher, Jen focused on bringing the world into her classroom, cultivating appreciation for the outdoors, and empowering her students to become global citizens. A Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching fellowship to Finland inspired Jen to create experiences and opportunities for students to engage directly with the world. 

In one of her most fulfilling projects, she designed and implemented Vamos Explorar: Conserving and Protecting New Mexico’s Wild Places to encourage her 8th grade students to see themselves as explorers. Funded by a grant from the National Geographic Society, Vamos Explorar (“Let’s Explore!’ in Spanish) inspired lifelong stewardship and a sense of responsibility for the preservation of local and global wilderness areas so that students feel empowered to act in authentic and sustainable ways. 

Jen is also dedicated to anti-racism education and increased representation of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color in the teaching profession. It is this passion and conviction for equitable educational experiences for all that drives her work supporting the next generation of teachers as a full-time faculty member in Teacher Education at Central New Mexico Community College.

Among her many other accomplishments, Jen was a 2018 Grosvenor Teacher Fellow and is currently a member of the National Geographic Teacher Advisory Council.

On behalf of National Geographic: Thank you, Jen! Thank you for your 20-plus years as a teacher and leader, passionately encouraging learners and educators. Thank you for caring deeply about sparking curiosity and wonder in your students and fostering community with your peers. Thank you for everything that you do.

While Jen hails from Albuquerque, New Mexico, she has touched hearts and minds in communities around the world. We reached out to other educators in our community about how they’ve been impacted by Jen’s leadership, and love of learning, to express their gratitude:

“This earthy, wholesome, and humble human being made a mark on me from the get-go. Her unique perspective in life, embedded in cultural experiences, has much to give to environmental education. Jen is a class act—whether she is cultivating the next generation of planetary stewards in her students or designing the best professional development for her fellow teachers. She has inspired me to be a better educator, a better human, and a better friend. Jen will continue to enrich all, including National Geographic Education, with her knowledge, perspective, and insights.” – Kavita Gupta, chemistry teacher from California and last year’s inaugural National Geographic Educator of the Year award recipient

Teaching is heart and soul work. In the midst of distance learning in schools, as well as the increasing visibility of horrendous racial injustices, it’s even more clear that teaching isn’t merely just a job: It’s a career, a calling of justice, and a dedication to disrupt patterns of inequity. Jen Chavez-Miller is the leader that today’s teachers need. She is working to create an equitable pathway to the profession for the next generation of teachers—while reminding them that teaching needs joy, excitement, and a little sparkle. I am honored to know an educator like Jen, who in over 20 years of professional experience, has served New Mexico’s public school students and is now creating the next generation of #TeacherStrong teachers.” – Kimi Waite, California educator

Jen Chavez-Miller is an incredible educator-explorer and a natural storyteller. An inspiration to many, Jen demonstrates exceptional character when collaborating with colleagues and fostering a love for learning among her students. Jen excels at blending compassion with curiosity while she explores the world outside her door. She has a delightful spirit and is always willing to lend a hand, or an ear, to support others in their educational journeys. Jen is an exceptional example of an individual who embraces the National Geographic Explorer mindset and embodies it within all aspects of her life. – Ali Pressel, Florida environmental educator, who serves alongside Jen on the Teacher Advisory Council 

While her support has been felt from educators at all levels—Jen is especially supportive of first-year educators, helping them to advance their professional growth and learning. Her commitment is particularly important this year, as teachers around the world have faced unique and persistent challenges due to COVID-19. Jen is living proof of the dedication — to her students, to her peers, and to her community — that embodies #TeacherStrong.

Jen’s core values are that we as humans are wired for connection to each other and to nature; that when we work together, we are more successful than if we had gone it alone; and that young people have the power to shape the world profoundly. Let’s celebrate Jen’s hard work, dedication, and equity-driven spirit together as a family. Thank you and congratulations, Jen!

Feature image courtesy Jen Chavez-Miller

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