SVEC Keeper of the Flame

2024 Keeper of the Flame Awardee – Debra Dimas




Debra Dimas, Santa Teresa High School

Debra embarked on her teaching journey in 1989 at Independence High School, where she instructed Integrated Science and Physics. In 2000, she transitioned to Santa Teresa High School, where she has since served as the FIRST Robotics Competition team mentor and Physics teacher. Her dedication to teaching is evident in her passion for inspiring students to strive for mastery of understanding, both in her classes and in the realm of robotics competition.

Beyond her role as an educator, Debra has actively participated in the Ignited program since 1994. In her initial three years, she collaborated at the IBM research center, exploring the application of Physics and Chemistry in the development of hard drives. This experience enabled her to assist students in answering the perennial question, “What will I use this for?” Over the last 15 years, Debra has assumed the role of a coach for Ignited, guiding fellow teachers in incorporating their summer research and industry experiences back into their classrooms.

Two years ago, Debra undertook a curriculum overhaul, inspired by the principles of Grading for Equity. Her approach ensures that students are evaluated based on their comprehension of learning objectives, rather than the sheer volume of work completed. This approach makes physics more accessible to students who might otherwise be deterred by challenging concepts while still presenting a meaningful challenge to top-performing students aiming to master the material.

With 34 years of teaching under her belt, Debra continues to find joy in working with her students and witnessing those enlightening “aha” moments.

About the Keeper of the Flame Award

Purpose of the Award

The purpose is to promote high standards of content and rigor in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education. The SVEC Keeper of the Flame award recognizes and honors those heroes of K-12 education who have distinguished themselves as Keepers of the Flame of knowledge by maintaining high standards of content in STEM instruction in the face of significant challenges. This award is not intended just to recognize outstanding teaching ability. The award will consist of a cash grant of $1000 given directly to the winning teacher. The award funds are to be used by the teacher for educational purposes. Up to two teachers will be recognized each year.


The Silicon Valley Engineering Council Keeper of the Flame Award recognizes and supports outstanding teachers in the elementary, middle school and high schools (K-12) whose programs maintain rigorous standards of performance and student participation in STEM in the face of significant challenges.

– The applicant must live or work within the following 8 counties: San Francisco, San Mateo, Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara, Monterey, San Benito and Santa Cruz

– The applicant must show commitment to high standards of achievement in science, technology and engineering, mathematics courses helping student grow their problem solving skills beyond the classroom, providing an effective balance of theory and practice in their courses

– The applicant must show strong academic performance as indicated by academic degrees, professional presentations and contributions

– The applicant should provide strong recommendations from faculty peers, students, and/or supervisors

– The applicant should demonstrate involvement in the promotion of professional and/or student activities, student competitions, or projects

– The applicant should demonstrate involvement in community and/or social services activities

– The applicant should demonstrate innovative approaches to inviting student participation and involvement

Granting of 2025 Awards

Awardees will be notified through e-mail by January 31, 2025, and will be awarded at the SVEC Engineers Week Banquet on February 20, 2025 at Delta Hotel by Marriott in Santa Clara. It is expected but not required that awardees attend the banquet. Each recipient and one companion will be SVEC guests.

Application Deadline is December 20, 2024.


If you have more questions, please send your inquiry to  Please put “SVEC Keeper of the Flame Awards” in the email subject line.

Please do not input or upload documents showing private information such as social security number.

Yanika Schneider (SPE)

Complete the Keeper of the Flame application here.

2023 Keeper of the Flame Award Winner

Helen Arrington, Leland HS San Jose Unified School

In 1999, Helen Arrington began teaching math at Leland HS in the San Jose Unified School. She had just relocated from Villanova, PA because her husband was transferred to Lockheed Martin Company in Sunnyvale. She was named Leland’s Teacher of the Year in 2003 and again in 2015. She has also been active in the San Jose Teacher Association (SJTA) Board of directors, serving as Minority Director at Large for 8 years, and as a CTA State Council representative for 8 years, including a role as CTA’s School Safety Committee Chair. She was also an NEA representative for 10 years. As Leland’s Math, Engineering, Science, Achievement (MESA) teacher from 1999-2000, she co-founded FIRST Robotics Challenge (FRC) team 604 in 2000 and has been the team advisor and mentor for 23 years. For 11 years, she has been the tournament director for the FIRST Lego League tournaments (FLL Quixilver Qualifiers). In addition to the Leland team, she also started Gunderson HS FRC Robotics Team and helped start FTC 8404 and FTC 14298. Furthermore, she also mentored Leland HS FTC 8404 and Lincoln HS FTC 14298.

Helen Arrington is passionate about STEM education. She did a summer training program at Cal Poly Pomona, which certified her to teach the first Introduction to Engineering Design” class at Leland. This led to a series of other engineering courses including: Principles of Engineering, Aerospace Engineering, Digital Electronics and Biomedicine. In recognition of her work, she was featured in a California Educator Magazine article titled “Robotics Teacher Makes an Impact” and was awarded the 2010 Woodie Flowers Mentoring Award at the Sacramento Regional. Because she enjoys working with adults as well as students, she has been a site instructional coach at Bret Harte MS, Leland HS, Willow Glen HS, Pioneer HS, and Gunderson HS. Currently, she serves as the Curriculum and Instruction Secondary District Instructional Math Coach. She attends Cathedral of Faith San Jose and volunteers for various causes such as Second Harvest Food Distributions and Toy Give-Away, Toys for Tots, and Gifts for Teens. She has also volunteered as a Querer for the FLL at the FIRST World’s Championship and local FIRST FRC Regional events.