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ORAU: Then & Now

Why ORAU has poured more than $500K into local schools


The 2023 grand prize winner, Danielle Roderick of Catlettsburg Elementary School, poses with her students.

There’s a difference between a company’s stated mission and its driving mission, though sometimes there is overlap as is the case with ORAU. The stated mission can usually be found on a business’s website. The driving mission is the why (or the push) behind the company’s priorities.

As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, our mission is to advance national priorities and serve the public interest by integrating academic, government and scientific resources globally. To keep the United States competitive on the world stage, we elevate science, technology, engineering and math. We want students to love STEM from a young age, so they’re more likely to choose STEM careers. That’s why we pour resources into K-12 programs focused in these areas.


2022 grand prize winner school, Northview Primary STEM School, showcases new tech purchased through ORAU’s Extreme Classroom Makeover.

As of December 2023, we have spent more than half a million dollars on enabling local teachers to buy the latest technology to facilitate fun, hands-on classroom experiences. We call it the ORAU Extreme Classroom Makeover, and we’ve been doing this for the past 15 years. In this particular program, we invite STEM educators (3rd – 10th grade) at public schools within 50 miles of Oak Ridge (where ORAU is located) to apply for a $25,000 classroom technology makeover. The teachers submit a video explaining what they’d spend the money on and how they’d use it in their classrooms. A panel of educators and ORAU staff determine the winning classroom based on how well the applicants demonstrate or explain their need for their desired technology, how they would use the new equipment, the creativity of the application video, and their explanation of their teaching philosophy and/or approach that will be used to expand STEM learning and encourage students to pursue careers in STEM fields.

Through this program, we have watched students go from not interested/intimidated by STEM fields to young professionals who love/are confident in pursuing science, technology, engineering and math opportunities. The not-so-secret secret is to make learning fun and accessible. Assigning boys and girls problems to work out with pencil and paper isn’t as engaging as playing a game with an interactive floor projector. Capture their interest through tech (like a floor projector) to teach big-picture concepts, and it will be easier to motivate them to learn subjects they may have previously believed they didn’t like.

Students at Catlettsburg Elementary show off their classroom gear their teacher won in ORAU’s 2023 Extreme Classroom Makeover.

On the heels of the success of popular TV show “Extreme Home Makeover,” ORAU introduced its “Extreme Classroom Makeover” in 2009. We even did our own version of moving a [school] bus for the reveal. Since that time, we have awarded winners from 30 different area schools with grand prize gifts ($25,000), runners-up gifts (usually $4,000 or 5,000) and viewer’s choice (between $1,000 – 2,500). Many times, the winners represent rural, Title 1 schools with less support. Through Title 1, the government identifies schools with a high percentage of children who come from low-income families. Federal dollars are earmarked to provide educational supplements. We’re glad ORAU can bolster that help to our local schools.

After 15 years of managing Extreme Classroom Makeover and following students whose interest sparked as a result of it, we can proudly and confidently say investing in programs that foster love for the sciences is not only worthwhile, but also moves the needle toward our mission of advancing national priorities and serving the public interest by integrating academic, government and scientific resources globally. And this isn’t the only program of its kind! Additionally, we sponsor education grants every year and free workshops for continued teacher education and free STEM opportunities for students in the summer. We put our money where our mission is, and our mission is clearly to encourage more students to love STEM. Find out more about our education grants in this blog.

ORAU Media Contacts and Information

About ORAU

ORAU, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, provides science, health, and workforce solutions that address national priorities and serve the public interest. Through our specialized teams of experts and access to a consortium of more than 150 major Ph.D.-granting institutions, ORAU works with federal, state, local, and commercial customers to provide innovative scientific and technical solutions and help advance their missions. ORAU manages the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

Media Contacts

Pam BoneeDirector, CommunicationsCell: (865) 603-5142
Wendy WestManager, CommunicationsCell: (865) 207-7953