Changing the World from the Classroom: Celebrating Teacher Appreciation Week

“Teachers are our window to the world outside our immediate surroundings. They are a source of love, wisdom, and knowledge that help students apply compassion, confidence, and critical thinking in their own lives.” 

– Emma Zahren-Newman, Loan Programs Office 

From early childhood to post-graduate education to educators who change lives outside of the classroom, teachers deserve our love every week of the year. However, for National Teacher Appreciation Week, we’d like to give them a special shout out. We asked our very own team members at the Department of Energy to share their stories about the teachers who have shaped their lives. 


Craig Branson 

National Nuclear Security Administration 

Public Affairs Specialist 

“Michael S. was a history teacher I had in high school. I can honestly say that he made me think differently about his topic of study, and I treasure that, but he also coached me in the extracurricular quiz bowl we had at school. Spending time with him and figuring out what an academic looked like and sounded like changed my life. I pursued knowledge because of his inspiration. I entered journalism in large part because of that.”


Vanessa Grisko 

Office of the Undersecretary of Science and Innovation 

Special Advisor to the Undersecretary    

“My journalism teacher, Mrs. O, once said, ‘Who speaks if you don’t?’ This quote has been foundational to my career and gives me a sense of responsibility to speak up and share stories to push for a better future. We were encouraged debate on news topics to widen our perspectives and she taught us to think critically and creatively. I am forever grateful.” 


Zack Valdez 

Office of Manufacturing and Energy Supply Chains 

Chief of Staff 

“Monica C. presented pathways to higher education and the opportunity for advanced degrees in STEM. She was compassionate and resilient in her goals to support students who were under-represented to pursue graduate level STEM programs – and provided a level of transparency and optimism that supported my confidence to apply and receive summer internships, attend international conferences, and ultimately obtain my PhD.  

That PhD provided me with analytical and social skills to discuss STEM topics with diverse stakeholders that would lead to roles in the U.S. Senate, national STEM non-profits, and as a Chief of Staff for the Department of Energy.” 


Emma Zahren-Newman 

Loan Programs Office 

Executive Assistant 

“I think of my teachers from various stages of school and life every day. Sometimes I recall the subject they taught – the objective of their lesson – like my 6th grade science teacher who taught us about global warming. Other times, I think of the little life lessons interjected into the regular school day – like my high school chorus teacher who gave us the courage to be ourselves. I’ve taken these and countless other lessons into my daily life today to strike out on a path to solve the existential problem of climate change while staying unapologetically true to myself. Thank you, teachers!”


Phillip Guerrero 

Office of Indian Energy Policy & Programs 

Communications Specialist 

“My mother inspired, encouraged, cajoled, and scared the life out of me if she didn’t see the effort or outcome she expected out of us. She demanded perfection but would accept excellence. Man, you did not want to fall short of her expectations. 

Mom was the first in her family to earn a college degree. Following in her footsteps, my brother earned an MBA, I earned a bachelor’s degree, and my sister even became a teacher, earning her doctorate and now serving as the principal at her school. Two of my brothers run their own construction companies and another sister retired from Southwest Airlines. We did well because mom expected nothing less than excellence from us. Thanks, Mom, for everything.” 


The Department of Energy is comprised of scientists to industry leaders to climate champions. It’s no secret that we’re proud of our team, not only for the knowledge they bring, but also the passion and commitment in the journey towards a sustainable and equitable clean energy future. For that, we thank the teachers who have inspired them along the way.  

Get Involved: DOE STEM 

The Department of Energy (DOE) is building pathways for a diverse workforce to pursue science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers that will solve some of the most complex challenges of our time. DOE seeks to engage learners at all levels to promote STEM and energy literacy and to attract, inspire, and develop a STEM identity and a sense of belonging in STEM. Learn more about the types of STEM training, education, and engagement programs and activities that DOE has to offer at

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