LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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LeeAnn Vaughan

Position: Science Teacher
School: Burke High School
School District: Omaha Public Schools
City, State: Omaha, NE

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LeeAnn Vaughan was nominated by Thomas Pflug, a member of the community.

Ms. Vaughan didn’t pursue a teaching career until she went to college in her thirties. After starting a family and a successful tax preparation business, she decided to take some business classes. She enjoyed helping other students with their business studies, and they were so impressed that they encouraged her to become a teacher. Thus, her adventure of changing lives began.  

As a biology teacher, Ms. Vaughan became fascinated with biotechnology and began researching all she could find on the subject. She took courses, visited biotech companies and wrote a grant for developing a biotech curriculum at Omaha North High School. Her success earned her the National Biotech Educator of the Year Award from a biotech industry group.

Omaha Public Schools later asked her to expand the OPS educational program at the Henry Doorly Zoo. Over four years, she visited schools throughout the district to encourage students to apply for the program. She created immersion opportunities for a diverse group of students and looked for young people with a passion and spark that would help them succeed. Ms. Vaughan also reached out to area veterinarians to provide real-world experiences for her students.

At Omaha Burke, she has built yet another successful program for students to learn about powered flight and space flight. The Air and Space Academy gives students an opportunity to take the written portion of the pilot’s license exam, learn about operations at Eppley Airfield and participate in the Civil Air Patrol chapter based at Burke. She also teaches a rocketry class where students learn principles of thrust and satellite orbits, as well as the teamwork and organization required to accomplish complex aerospace engineering projects.

The same drive that led her to biotech firms around the country also led her to a summer working with the Operations Management Team at Eppley Airfield, to membership in the Civil Air Patrol and to a flight on board NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy. Ms. Vaughan is driven to learn about her subject and to teach from her experience. 

Her accomplishments have garnered recognition from peers and outside organizations alike. In addition to her award as a biotechnology educator, she has been the recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, the Christa McAuliffe Prize for Courage and Excellence in Education, and the AAAS Leadership in Science Education Prize, among others. She is also serving, or has served, in leadership roles with many professional, educational, and curriculum development boards and organizations.  

"Both inside the classroom, and within the broader educational and professional community, LeeAnn Vaughan has been changing lives for the better throughout her professional career," Pflug said.



Comments (33)


Joe Posted 9 months ago

When I first heard of the Life Changer Award, I thought to myself, “LeeAnn is exactly who they are thinking of.” Let me explain why. It was my good fortune to meet a beautiful young woman full of fire, smart and confidence. That was 40 years ago and change my life she did! Facing struggles working as a not-for-profit affordable housing provider, her nonstop encouragement saw me through many difficult times. Our four children saw their loving mother teach Sunday school; volunteer at their schools; run Cub Scout Café; work the Women’s Assault Hotline; take food to families in need; and, many more selfless things. Then at the age of 36, she started her college career. After four years of hard work, LeeAnn received her Bachelors’ degree in education. She did not stop there even though she began teaching full-time. She continued her quest for knowledge and went on to obtain her Masters’ degree, as well as a Certificate of Urban Education. This also earned her the deep admiration of her four children. On her own, LeeAnn developed an award-winning biotechnology program of study at Omaha North High, which is a diverse inner-city school. She was then asked to develop a high school veterinary and zoology program at the Henry Doorly zoo. After successfully developing these two amazing programs, she was transferred to Burke High School to help develop an Aviation Academy. LeeAnn’s hard work and dedication is undeniable. I saw this during my many trips to her schools: From helping her build hydroponics unit; to picking up helium for a weather balloons launch; to filling my truck with mulch for another school project; I saw the mutual respect and love she has for her students and her students have for her. To say LeeAnn had a difficult young life is an understatement. She overcame extreme adversities and became a strong and courageous person. She sees the best in everyone and is a champion for those less fortunate. When it comes to her children and her students, this woman has the heart of a lioness!

Ryan Vaughan Posted over a year ago

Leeann Vaughan is the most dedicated, caring, and loving teacher I have known. While I haven’t been fortunate to have Mrs. Vaughan as a teacher, I have been lucky enough to call her Mom. Growing up, my mother instilled values in me that I see her pouring into her work still today. I have seen firsthand the sacrifice and hard work that Leeann puts in to her life as a teacher. While few would go as far as Leeann does to reach a single student, the reward of changing a life far outweighs the sacrifice. I am so incredibly proud to call this woman my Mom and to know how many lives she has touched in her career! If anyone is deserving of a lifechanger award, it is without a doubt Leeann Vaughan!

Evan Hammans Posted over a year ago

Mrs. Vaughn, or as I know her, Captain Vaughn. is a fantastic teacher and mentor. Captain Vaughn has been my Civil Air Patrol squadron leader since I joined the organization. Captain Vaughn's leadership helped the Burke squadron earn the most improved squadron award on the regional level in 2016, which was a significant achievement and one I was glad to be part of. Beyond this, and on a more personal level, she is always willing to help me achieve my goals within CAP or outside of it. Since I first became acquainted with Captain Vaughn, she has helped me pursue my interests in any way she can, often going above and beyond for the students and cadets in her influence. Captain Vaughn and CAP help me explore new opportunities like: training activities for emergency services, flights in light aircraft, and staffing opportunities at aviation events, all while working to help develop leadership, integrity, and excellence. Traits which Captain Vaughn exemplifies. Outside of CAP she is an advocate for me and helps me reach out and find new interests and challenges. She has, and continues to work hard to improve the lives of me and all her students and cadets.

Chris Kort Posted over a year ago

Mrs. Vaughn has been an inspiration to our daughter. The highlight of our daughter's day at Burke was attending Mrs. Vaughn's class. She has made learning fun and challenging for her. Her aviation class has been the subject of many of our family dinner conversations. Our daughter is currently attending Creighton University to become a teacher and she is hoping to model and inspire students the way Mrs. Vaughn has inspired her. I can't think of a better compliment than you can give a teacher than wanting to follow in their footsteps. We need more teachers like Mrs. Vaughn to teach, challenge, and inspire our children to reach their goals!

Emily Kort Posted over a year ago

Mrs. Vaughan is highly deserving of this award. She puts the needs of her students before her own. When I was in her aviation courses, Mrs. Vaughan taught me how to learn, rather than what to learn. She taught our class how to problem solve for ourselves, which is an applicable skill for our everyday lives. I have always admired her enthusiasm for teaching. She is one of the reasons I have decided to become a teacher.

Brenda Andrews Posted over a year ago

From the moment you meet her, you can tell Ms Vaughn is passionate, dynamic and engaging. She loves teaching and her students. My teenage son enjoys her class and when I ask what he did that day in school he excitedly describes what he learned in Ms Vaughn's class. It's a huge change from the standard answer "nothing" that most kids say. My son chose to go to Burke High School for their aviation program and he is thrilled that Ms. Vaughn was his teacher his Freshman year and will be his teacher next year. Ms. Vaughn is the Squadron Commander for Burke's Civil Air Patrol and teaches subjects such as rocketry, robotics, flight, and space. A few of the amazing areas these lessons cover weather, mathematics, physical science, life science and unmanned aerial systems. Ms Vaughn encourages my son to learn, and be successful. I am excited that Ms Vaughn has been nominated for this award. I highly recommend her for this honor.

Efrain Jimenez Posted over a year ago

Leeann Vaughan has been such a major contributor to my success and growth here at Burke High. She has led me through our amazing Air and Space program, which has given me so many opportunities that I am very grateful for. My Sophomore year is when I had my first class with her and she was teaching Intro to Aeronautics. She had such a passion for not only teaching but teaching aviation which made me enjoy the class more. Her teachings in that class prepared me for my Senior year as I am currently flight training and in another aviation class which I am excelling in because of how prepared I was from Vaughan's aviation classes I took that were well structured. Her classroom management was top notch. She was concerned about all her students and is a strong advocate for their rights. She displayed keen awareness of the learning styles of each one and always finding new strategies. She also had introduced me to an aviation group called Aviation Nation. They were building an actual airplane which got me super excited and I had to get involved. I have been with them since and we are still building the plane to this day. Also Aviation Nation and Vaughan led me to Oshkosh, Wisconsin for Air Venture, the world's largest air show. It was truly one of the best experiences in my life and I couldn't have been able to do those things without the help of Vaughan.

S. Richards Posted over a year ago

LeeAnn Vaughan is deserving of this particular award. She is truly a life-changing teacher. She holds ALL students to high academic standards and is always willing to provide extra support to help each student succeed. Her caring, inclusive actions are evident in the classroom. She works to create an environment where all students feel that they matter and are heard. LeeAnn Vaughan consistently looks for opportunities for students to grow and to have new experiences. Often times this means giving up her personal time on weekends and evenings. She is a dedicated educator who cares deeply for her students and works to improve lives.

Anne Schmidt Posted over a year ago

Mrs. Vaughan really cares about her students. She takes an interest in their well being as a whole, along with their education. She wants them to learn and grow as people and members of the community. She is a wonderful caring teacher and I'm so glad that my daughter has the opportunity to learn from her.

Elizabeth Weeks Posted over a year ago

Mrs. Vaughn is an inspiration to her students, especially my son who is autistic. How she has taught him has made him realize that he can do so much more than what others says he can do. As a result, my son now has his own Twitter, and Facebook page dedicated to aviation (plane spotting). She is so deserving of this award and I hope she wins!

Lee Ann Stover Posted over a year ago

LeeAnn Vaughn is an amazing teacher and I feel privileged to have the opportunity to collaborate and teach with her. She is dedicated to the success of her students, not only in learning content of the curriculum, but she is passionate about instilling confidence and leadership skills in all of her students. She works tirelessly to implement exciting lessons for her classes and spends hours outside of school on her Air and Space program. Burke High School is a better place because of her. She is so very deserving of this honor!

Tay Kellogg Posted over a year ago

If anybody deserves this award it is Mrs. Vaughan. She is a very determined and inspirational teacher. Whatever task you put her to she is determined to do it. She is inspirational because I made my science classes for the rest of high school having her be my teacher, just because she inspires me. She also inspires me to apart of the Aviation field when I get older. I had a project to do in English, It was a essay about the 5 people I would meet in heaven. I had to right their signifgance to me and the lesson they taught me. I had Mrs. Vaughan as one of my people. She taught me to never let anybody knock my dreams and whatever you want you got to strive for it, might be hard work but it pays off in the long run. She also taught me to do something you love in life as a career I didn't know what I would do in my life until I met Mrs. Vaughn.

Bill Travis Posted over a year ago

Mrs. Vaughn is one of he most amazing and inspirational teachers for my daughter Emily bar none. I as a parent am extremely thankful for all the time and energy she give to our children every day.

Carilyn Travis Posted over a year ago

I have not personally met LeeAnn Vaughan but her influence over my daughter has been amazing. Ms. Vaughan has been able to guide and develop Emily's talents over the last year. My daughter is now part of the Civil Air Patrol as well as Aviation Nation at her teacher's suggestion. Emily is also looking long term at colleges with her sights set on the Air Force Academy. For Ms. Vaughan to take Emily under her wing and help her learn about herself and her potential is amazing. I know that my daughter will be successful in her life based, in no small part, on the guidance she has received from Ms. Vaughan.

Dan Reid Posted over a year ago

I have only known LeaAnn since January through the civil air patrol program. From Day 1, she was very kind and inclusive to my son Thomas, who at only 12 years old, was a few years younger than the rest of the cadets. She has shown incredible leadership, passion and a unique knowledge of of the civil air patrol. I can see how the other cadets, who are also in her Burke classes, look up to and respect her ideas and leadership. She is a good communicator, has good stories and relates to the students. She is strict with the students, but in a caring way. LeeAnn has made the high school choice easy for my son, he wants to go to Burke and be in her class. I appreciate all of the effort she gives Burke, her students and the civil air patrol. Thank you LeeAnn.

Dan Sitzman Posted over a year ago

Lee Ann's bio here and comments below capture the varied talents and interest, enhanced with her consistent passion and energy she has shared with students for the nearly 20 years that I have known her as a colleague. She is an example for all of us, whether guiding a classroom, engaging in a classroom, or participating in our community.

unknown Posted over a year ago

i love mrs vaughan like she is my mom she is the best teacher i have ever had she deserves the world.

sadie shepherd Posted over a year ago

Ms. Vaughan is the one teacher who never gave up on me. I never had a teacher who helped me to not only get my grades up in her class but also in all my other classes. I may not have been the best student but she never once gave up on me or anyone else. I had lost all interest in science, which is my favorite subject, and she helped me to love it again and helped me to realize what I wanted todo with my life, she inspires me everyday, if I am having a bad day she is the one I go and talk to, honestly cant imagine not being here next year because I wont be able to communicate with the teacher who has helped me through so much. if I need help with anything even if its a personal issue she is always there to listen. she is there for my good days and is there when I am not having the best day. she truly has changed my life!

Tammy Swanson Posted over a year ago

Ms. Vaughan has been my twins sons teacher in the flight program for the past two years. Her hard work and dedication to making each child succeed and excel in their own way is what makes Ms. Vaughan a perfect candidate. Ms. Vaughan is always looking for more adventurous ways of teaching to keep kids intersected in learning even with dull subjects. Ms. Vaughan dedicates an ungodly amount of her own time to her students sacrificing her own family time. Ms. Vaughan had gained knowledge from her own experiences and passes on to her students the value of hard work and self sacrifice. Ms. Vaughan makes learning fun even though a lot is expected. Ms. Vaughan has proven herself in the classroom and in the field as a dedicated educator who deserves recognition.

kimberly lukis Posted over a year ago

Mrs. Vaughan is a wonderful person inside and out. I am honored to know her for she was my daughters teacher freshman year! She always has a smile on her face and is so positive! Very inspiring women!

Dalliya Conway Posted over a year ago

Mrs. Vaughan is one of the most amazing teachers i have ever had. Not only did she teach me physical science but she taught me so much more and she doesn't even know it, she has taught me to treat everyone with respect and taught me to never give up on what you want. She is such a influential role model for many people including me, her achievements inspire me to be my best everyday! She was my teacher for freshman year and even though she is not my teacher now she is still my favorite! Whether you have known her for a day or a year Mrs. Vaughan has made an impact on whoever she meets! xoxo

Hilary Webb Posted over a year ago

Mrs. Vaughn is truly an inspirational and involved instructor. Not only did she motivate Xavier our son to learn so much about the different aspects of physics and flight, she actually set up an opportunity for the kids to go on plane flights with Cessna Pilots out of the Millard airport. This experience was truly a wonderful family day for us and Javier got to experience flight in a small plane all over Omaha. This definitely helped round out his education and show him how important and interesting his school was. It made for a very impactful year. Mrs. Vaughn is friendly professional and responsive and involves much of her personal time with the students. For leadership with the aviation program is outstanding and unprecedented. We don't know how she does it and we certainly hope to see her with this award !!

Mariza Hoffman Posted over a year ago

Mrs. Vaughn has been a key component to my son's high school success and drive to keep fighting to reach his goal, to become a pilot. She has guided and assisted him in staying focused and choosing the right path for his future. Besides being one of his teachers and mentors she introduced him to the Civil Air Patrol and Aviation Nation, both gave him opportunities to gain more aviation knowledge. Mrs. Vaughn is always very hands on and puts a lot of her own time into events and programs to make sure her students get the ultimate experience! She has a heart of gold, a smile that lights up a room and it is also comforting to know that she is out to help students be successful now as well as in their future!

Tara Vaughan Posted over a year ago

I am so blessed to be this woman’s daughter! My mom’s capacity to love is limitless, and to me this comes across in the way she works tirelessly to understand each one of her students’ learning needs in order to teach them. I’ve seen the (literal) blood, sweat and many tears she puts into what she does; anyone who meets my mom can feel immediately how much she cares about what she does. She wants her students to understand the wondrous joy of science and to feel the confidence and sense of self worth that come along with true learning. I’m so proud of you and I love you, Mom!

Diane Stuart Posted over a year ago

I have had the pleasure of calling LeeAnn my friend for over forty-five years. She is kind, generous, and caring. She approaches everything she does with enthusiasm and excitement. It has been a great adventure to ride along. I can easily imagine the "wonder” she creates in the classroom. She has already changed lives. I cannot wait to see what her students accomplish in the years ahead! What a beautiful footprint.

Anonymous Posted over a year ago

Mrs. Vaughan is the teacher that will help you in the time of need. She has helped guide students through aviation programs and took many students on educational trips. I have joined Aviation Nation (a program she helped grow) when it first started and absolutely love it. She took me under her wing and helped grow into an independent young lady. She truly deserves this reward!

Jessica Dillon Posted over a year ago

Mrs. Vaughn is truly the best teacher I’ve ever met. Ever since my freshman year of high school Mrs. Vaughn has guided me. She helped me realize my career in aviation. She has helped Aviation Nation grow into something amazing! She is truly an inspiring teacher.

Frank Tworek Posted over a year ago

Talk about a "Lifechanger"! I had the privilege of working directly with LeeAnn in her Physics teaching, her BioTech development, and her Zoo Academy projects. She has not only had a powerful impact on the lives of her students--she has also influenced the lives of the adults with whom she works. I often think of the fact that I have become a better teacher because of her.

Rodney Scott Posted over a year ago

You couldn't ask for a better teacher than Mrs. Vaughan. She is one that can get a student to open up to her about anything but gaining their respect. It is important for a teacher to be able to gain the respect of the students and she does that without any problems. She goes the extra mile to make sure all of her students feel comfortable in her classroom and can come to them when they have an issue. I have seen Mrs. Vaughan take time out of her own schedule to be at events at Millard Airport for the Burke High School students that are flying. She is caring, giving and is a sense of a true leader.

Karrie Scott Posted over a year ago

Mrs. Vaughan is a true leader when it comes to giving back and supporting students. She has taken my daughter under her wing and shown her that just because, you are a woman that shouldn't stop you from doing what you want to do in your life. I have seen a great deal of change in my daughter since Mrs. Vaughan has come into her life. She deserves this award more than anyone else does. No words can express appreciation for Mrs. Vaughan...

Michelle Romano Posted over a year ago

When I think of LeeAnn I think of two things, rigor and patience. You will not find another teacher with more rigorous course work than LeeAnn. It doesn't matter is she is at North teaching Bio-Technology, at the zoo teaching Animal Science or at Burke teaching Aeronautics. She takes students where they are and makes solid students out of them hungry for science. There is no skimping or doing things half way. Managing this with students take a great deal of patients and encouragement. She stands beside them the whole time coaching when she needs to and allowing them to discover on their own. Whenever there is a stellar, unique science program, LeeAnn is usually at the helm. She is a superb candidate for your community.

Aly Martinez Wilkinson Posted over a year ago

LeeAnn Vaughan is the embodiment of a Life Changer! She is so involved in so many different areas of education. She has touched the lives of so many students and adults during her tenure. She always has a smile on her face and a "can do" spirit. I have had the opportunity to work beside LeeAnn in many professional development opportunities and I can't think of a more dedicated and caring individual. She gives with her whole heart. This honor is well deserved and I am so proud of her! Congrats LeeAnn!!!

Chris Schaben Posted over a year ago

Mrs. Vaughan is one of the most passionate and dedicated educators I have had the pleasure to work with in OPS. She has deservingly won several teaching awards and built several programs and opportunities for her students. She is a life-long learner and happily shares what she finds with her colleagues. I am excited that she has been nominated for this award.