An Interview with OCSEF’s Teacher of the Year for 2023: Travis Garwick

Travis Garwick, a STEM teacher at Warner Middle School, recently awarded Teacher of the Year at the 2023 Orange County Science and Engineering Fair (OCSEF). In an interview with Mr. Garwick, he shared his journey to becoming a teacher, his involvement with OCSEF, and his recommendation for students looking to create a successful project.

Mr. Garwick’s passion for STEM education started when he himself was in high school, where he was inspired by exceptional teachers who went beyond their normal instruction to engage him in the STEM curriculum.

“Originally wanted to pursue work as a lab researcher,” Garwick tells us, “but I realized after years in the lab that I preferred a working environment that was more inclusive and less isolating. I then sought out work in the healthcare field to apply my love for STEM, but the patient outcomes were often out of my control. In the end, my life came full circle as I thought to enter the field of STEM education to inspire the next generation of students by serving as a teacher and modeling myself after the exceptional educators that had molded me in the past.”

Now, with 24 years and counting of experience as a STEM educator, Mr. Garwick says that he’s continuously exposed to new and curious minds who teach him new ways of looking at the world every day. “My amazing students from upper elementary, middle, and high school remind me about the importance of my choice to teach in the STEM field by challenging me to inspire them and look for ways to help them navigate the world of STEM to find their passion and identify future career paths that will bring them success and satisfaction,” he says.

Regarding his involvement with OCSEF, Mr. Garwick started working with the program in 2021 when Warner Middle School and Westminster High School partnered for STEM articulation meetings. “OCSEF and the Mentor Match program were identified as the bridge between our schools, using STEM as the vehicle for student development, recruitment, and community building,” Mr. Garwick says. “Our program and involvement in OCSEF has quickly grown in both student participation and achievement. Each year, the number of students interested in taking part has grown and our relationship with the mentors provided at the high school has strengthened. Overall, it has been a successful partnership.”

For students looking to create a successful project for OCSEF, Mr. Garwick recommends drawing inspiration from their surroundings, lives, and personal interests. “Being authentic makes the project not only valuable and motivating, but increases engagement with the project,” he says. “Identifying a problem to solve that has true meaning to the student and can impact the lives of others significantly can be very powerful. Curiosity, passion, and inquiry around our surroundings has been the cornerstone to amazing work.”

Mr. Garwick’s dedication to STEM education and involvement with OCSEF has undoubtedly made a positive impact on his students and the community. Congratulations to Mr. Garwick on his Teacher of the Year award and his commitment to inspiring the next generation of STEM leaders!