CRESTVIEW — The second time was the charm for Laurel Hill School math teacher Debra Adams and Crestview High science teacher Greg Elrite, who March 1 received the two $5,000, no-strings-attached Hsu Educational Foundation Teaching Excellence Awards in Math and Science.

Both teachers were recipients of the program’s $500 merit award last year.

Founded by tech entrepreneur and philanthropist Dr. Paul Hsu, the awards recognize teachers who excel in inspiring and educating young minds in the science, technology, engineering and math fields referred to as STEM.

"Skills developed in areas of science, technology, engineering and math are increasingly vital in preparing students for the careers of global demand," Hsu Educational Foundation executive director Amanda Negron stated in a media release. "The HSU Educational Foundation believes an excellent teacher is incredibly influential in stimulating the necessary student interest and performance that will help build a strong, prepared workforce."

"A dream begins when a teacher believes in you and leads you to the next plateau," Dr. Hsu said during the ceremony.

Joining Adams and Elrite on the stage during the Crestview Area Chamber of Commerce’s monthly networking breakfast were the awards program’s three merit finalists, Shannon Kirby, Tiffany McGovern and Linda Parker, all of Crestview High. A special award recognized the efforts of Davidson Middle School robotics teacher Tim Sexton.

Their $500 prizes were sponsored by the Hsu Foundation, TelaForce, Okaloosa Gas and Emerald Coast Aviation, the fixed-base operator at Bob Sikes Airport. Dr. Hsu also credited the TEAMS program’s success to support by area business leaders, Okaloosa Superintendant of Schools Mary Beth Jackson, and Crestview Mayor David Cadle.

"The TEAMS program gives our excellent STEM teachers the recognition that they richly deserve," Cadle said. "It’s their efforts that start our students on their way to a great career in technical fields and attracts technology companies to our community."

To reach the Crestview Community Center stage, seven nominees underwent a vigorous application and examination by a select committee of chamber members chaired by former chamber president Dennis Mitchell, whom Ms. Negron called "a tireless worker for our community."

"This is a big deal for our community," Mr. Mitchell said. "One of the things industries thinking of relocating here consistently ask is ‘How is your talent pipeline?’"

Teachers were nominated by members of the community including fellow educators, students, principals, parents, civic and business leaders.

For the first time in the program’s four-year history, TEAMS nominations were also opened up to south Okaloosa County schools. Of that region’s 12 nominees, Choctawhatchee High School teacher Sean McSheehy and Fort Walton Beach High School’s Cyndi Stone received the top $5,000 award at the Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce breakfast Friday morning.

South county merit winners were Jacqueline Sheffield and Megan Mueller of Fort Walton Beach High, and Diane "De" Cook of Collegiate High School at Northwest Florida State College.

"With over 40 years of experience in business and local economic development, Paul Hsu intimately understands the importance of fostering interaction between employers who understand workforce needs and the education system, that provides the talent pipeline," Ms. Negron said during the Crestview presentation.