Massachusetts teacher gets an ‘A’ in STEM with Bellarmine’s STEAM MAEd program


Stephanie McKenney (MAEd. ’23) is a champion of arts education—but she knew that the arts should not exist in a vacuum, particularly where teaching is concerned. “When I heard of STEAM, the pedagogy behind it really spoke to me,” says McKenney, who teaches K–8 Theatre Arts at the Emily G. Wetherbee School in Lawrence, Massachusetts. This started her on a search for a master’s program that not only could help her teach the fundamentals but also become a leader in them—and she discovered the Master of Arts in Education in Teacher Leadership of STEAM Education degree at Bellarmine. “Most programs offered STEM and a couple offered STEAM, but when I found Bellarmine, I knew it was the program for me,” she says, adding, “I feel it was the most affordable that I've found.”

The program’s online format has allowed the busy McKenney flexibility after a long day, which includes afterschool enrichment programming made possible through a 21st Century Extended Day grant. “I needed an online program due to the hours,” she says. “I would never make it to in-person classes with traffic.” She does stress that “online” does not automatically mean “easy.” “It takes discipline,” she notes. “I really like the layout and frame of the classes,” she says, explaining the ways she has connected with her classmates. “There are many ways to understand others’ stories, strategies, and perspectives with discussion forums, videos, curating resources, and feedback on assignments.” There has even been an opportunity to connect synchronously on Teams to further build a bond traditionally forged in in-person classes. “This has been one of the most challenging years for educators,” she says. “I was grateful to my professors and other students for supporting each other during this time.”

McKenney’s experience with the arts infuses her professional practice. “I resonated with the educational philosophy of the program,” she says, noting that the “A” in STEAM held a significant part of the appeal. She demonstrated this philosophy by creating a STEAM lesson plan with a focus on social-emotional learning using shadow puppetry—another opportunity for students to support one another and explore their creativity, now younger than her Bellarmine cohort and with the help of professional puppeteers in her area. “It was an idea another student in the program came up with, but I decided to use my 7th graders and have them perform it for our younger grade levels,” she says.

At least one professor appreciates the multifaceted thinking and the resulting projects McKenney creates and implements. “Her lesson was phenomenal,” says Dr. Kristin Cook, who spearheads the STEAM program. “It was a great example of STEAM using arts as an access point. She led with an arts lens but incorporated the science and math in there as well—science by focusing on light and shadows, and math by focusing proportional reasoning in puppet making.” McKenney seamlessly wove content satisfying Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), National Core Arts Standards (NCAS) for Theatre Arts, and standards governing instruction in her home state of Massachusetts—and made it engaging and fun. “Regarding having the puppets be proportionate and being able to use light and shadows and puppet design,” McKenney explains, “in theatre, we learn about how different levels can portray relationships between characters, and I feel that it is important for the audience to understand that.”

In addition to teaching her enrichment class, McKenney also is part of her district’s theatre team, which puts on productions around the area. Prior to this, however, she taught second grade—a crucial point in children’s education, both academically and holistically. “I made sure I integrated the arts,” she says. “Most schools support STEM, but I think the arts are crucial to the 4 C’s [communication, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration].”

As she marks the halfway point of the program, McKinney remains confident in her decision to join the fully online, asynchronous program—from literally a thousand miles away, but made close by the importance of the work and her relationships with her instructors and fellow students. “I know this is the right choice for me,” she says. “My students deserve to have STEAM experiences because they will need this type of thinking beyond the classroom walls.”

Tags: Education , MAEd , STEAM , STEM



Located in the historic Highlands neighborhood of Louisville, Kentucky, Bellarmine University is a vibrant community of educational excellence and ethical awareness that consistently ranks among the nation’s best colleges and universities. Our students pursue an education based in the liberal arts – and in the distinguished, inclusive Catholic tradition of educational excellence, the oldest and most rewarding in the western world. It is a lifelong education, worthy of the university’s namesake, Saint Robert Bellarmine, and of his invitation to each of us to learn and live In Veritatis Amore – in the love of all that is beautiful, true and good in life.