Skip to main content

Eighth grade computer science teacher wins $25,000 grand prize in ORAU’s 2024 Extreme Classroom Makeover competition

Shelby Woods, a computer science teacher at Sevier County Junior High School in Sevierville, Tennessee, was named winner of the $25,000 grand prize in ORAU’s 2024 Extreme Classroom Makeover.

Shelby Woods of Sevier County Junior High School is the 2024 ORAU Extreme Classroom Makeover grand prize winner.

Teaching children is not just a profession—it’s a calling, and some teachers go above and beyond that call. That’s the case for the winner of ORAU’s 2024 Extreme Classroom Makeover grand prize. Shelby Woods entered ORAU’s competition, going up against teachers from around East Tennessee who were vying for $25,000 to improve the technology in their classrooms.

The Sevier County Junior High School computer science teacher’s application stood out because she clearly identified areas of interest that her room setup currently lacks. From desktop computers to 3D printers and even hydroponic plants, Woods explained how she would use this equipment to help her students develop new skills.

“Computer science is a process of solving complex, organizational problems using technical solutions,” Woods explained in her application. “The reason that this is such an important field is that computers and technology are integrated into virtually every sector in our economic industry. It is imperative that educators hold a high responsibility for teaching students foundational understanding of computational thinking. Through using technology and project-based learning technologies, we are fostering a community of high-level thinkers who are prepared for any technological they face in the real world.”

ORAU surprised Woods with the announcement that she won the grand prize of $25,000 for new classroom technology on Friday, March 29, 2024, in a previously scheduled students vs. teachers basketball game. Woods was selected to attempt a half-time half-court shot. In the ruse, her students held up signs offering her $25,000 if she made the basket. Upon missing the shot, the signs read:

“Just Kidding.”
“You won $25,000 anyway.”
“You’re the ORAU Extreme Classroom Makeover Grand Prize Winner!”


In an emotional response after learning she had won, Woods shared why this prize meant so much to her: “Our students aren’t provided these resources, and this money is going to help them to be hands-on with technology and enhance their real-world application. They can use their skills learned in my classroom in the real world,” she said.

In her video application, Woods and her students wrote and choreographed a song explaining what they’d like to do with the prize money if they won. In addition to computers, 3D printers and modular growing towers, other ideas included purchasing equipment to facilitate students’ opportunity to learn coding and creating a program to record and present the news.

Jim Vosburg, ORISE director and senior vice president for ORAU, was on-hand with an over-sized check to surprise and thank Woods for her dedication to inspiring the next generation to love STEM.

“We need more teachers like Mrs. Woods,” Vosburg said. “She’s looking for opportunities to integrate science, technology, engineering and math into her curriculum so that students understand how to apply their skills to everyday challenges. Mrs. Woods is training students to become problem-solvers.”

ORAU started the Extreme Classroom Makeover program 15 years ago as part of the company’s ongoing efforts to strengthen STEM education throughout East Tennessee. Since then, ORAU has awarded more than $500,000 to more than 30 East Tennessee schools.

STEM teachers of third through tenth grade students who work for a public school within 50 miles of Oak Ridge are eligible to apply to ORAU’s annual competition. Applicants are asked to submit a video that creatively explains their need for technology in the classroom and how this technology will improve the educational experience of their students.

Impact Areas

Watch the 2024 ECM Winner Announcement

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