Weather Updates

Trip to Capitol Hill invigorates South Elgin teacher to promote STEAM programs

U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Hoffman Estates) left  with science teacher Michelle Burke South Elgin. | Submitted

U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Hoffman Estates), left, with science teacher Michelle Burke of South Elgin. | Submitted

storyidforme: 61284329
tmspicid: 22174087
fileheaderid: 10526825

Updated: March 3, 2014 3:09PM

“Just amazing” was how South Elgin’s Michelle Burke described her trip to Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.

Burke, a science teacher, was the guest of U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Hoffman Estates) for a day full of activities that included rubbing elbows with congressmen and senators and watching President Obama’s State of the Union Address from within the House Chamber.

Burke was seated in the balcony (on the same side as the first lady) where she had a clear view of the president when he entered the chambers as well as during his speech. “I was 50 feet away from the president,” said Burke on Wednesday morning while waiting for her flight back to Illinois.

“Honestly, it is hard to put it into words,” Burke said of the speech. “I am so impressed to be a part of history.”

Duckworth met Burke, who teaches at Jane Addams Junior High in Schaumburg, at the launch of a partnership with Northwestern University to expand STEAM (Science, Technology, Arts, Engineering, and Mathematics) programs in elementary classrooms throughout the Chicago area. Burke was instrumental in getting the partnership off the ground.

Impressed with Burke’s initiative, Duckworth invited the teacher to be her guest for the State of the Union address.

Burke hit the ground running Tuesday, getting a behind-the scenes tour of the Capitol and the Library of Congress in the morning and dining with the congresswoman in her office at lunch. “She is just so down-to-earth,” Burke said of Duckworth.

One of the highlights of the trip was attending a reception hosted by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) where Burke shook hands with America’s movers and shakers. Burke said she felt like a VIP when Duckworth introduced her every time as a leader in her field as a STEAM teacher.

As such, Burke was able to talk about the importance of STEAM education to people who have the ability to promote it across the nation.

Although Schaumburg School District 54 where Burke works already supports STEAM projects, Burke said the trip has “inspired” and “invigorated” her to bring STEAM initiatives to more schools.

“All kids should get exposed to STEAM,” she said.

Burke’s own kids attend Elgin U46 schools, and she’d love for the district to offer more STEAM programming.

While she likely won’t push STEAM in the political arena anytime soon, she still plans to use her influence in her own backyard.

“I am a pretty passionate person,” she said.

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.