Carmela Amato-Wierda, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Materials Science
Director of UNH Tech Camp & Tech for Teachers Institute
NH CREATES, Principal Investigator
Carmela Amato-Wierda has been an associate professor of materials science at UNH since 1995 and became director of Tech Camp in 2014 after teaching in the program for several summers. During her tenure as director, the camp has significantly grown and diversified its student population and added a number of new programs that improve access to STEM education and careers.
“Tech Camp empowers students, regardless of their background or experience level, to gain a better understanding of numerous STEM concepts through fun, collaborative, hands-on activities,” says Amato-Wierda. “They also get to work with teachers, graduate students and STEM professionals in a supportive environment on a vibrant college campus. It can really be life changing.”
Among Amato-Wierda’s most notable achievements at Tech Camp was receiving a five-year, $1.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) through its Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) program in 2020. The focus of this grant was to help establish NH CREATES, a workforce development ecosystem that supports New Hampshire’s rapidly growing regenerative medicine and biotechnology industries. Related programs for both students and teachers were introduced to great success on the UNH Durham campus in 2021. Manchester CREATES, an expansion of this of this initiative, will launch on the UNH Manchester campus in 2024.
The Dinah Whipple STEAM Academy, an innovative program focused on pre-engineering and the Black experience, was also started in 2021. In years past, Amato-Wierda also helped launch the Tech for Teachers Institute for middle and high school STEM teachers and college-readiness programs for high school juniors and seniors.
Amato-Wierda holds a B.A. in both physics and chemistry from Harvard University and earned a Ph.D. in chemistry from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Her research at UNH is focused on cognition and how it impacts the learning of STEM concepts for grades K-12. She is also the faculty advisor for the UNH Chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers.
Married with three children and one grandchild, Amato-Wierda enjoys cooking, gardening and reading in her spare time.
Amy Booth, M.Ed.
NH CREATES, Project Director
Tech Camp, Assistant Director
Amy Booth has been affiliated with Tech Camp and the Tech for Teachers Institute since 2015. She attended the latter for three consecutive summers before taking on various positions at Tech Camp, including day counselor, project assistant and project leader. She assumed her roles as project director of the NH CREATES workforce development initiative and assistant director of Tech Camp in the fall of 2021.
A former middle school STEM teacher in both Dover and Bow, Booth also ran afterschool programs at the Dover Middle School STEAM Academy and has worked with several other UNH-affiliated youth STEM programs. Having attended the Tech for Teachers Institute and worked at Tech Camp gives Booth a unique perspective on the value of both programs. “As a teacher, you really don't have as much time as you would like during the school year to create new curriculum,” she says of the Tech for Teachers Institute experience. “Tech for Teachers provides a space for educators to think creatively, collaborate and develop some truly impactful curriculum.”
This same sense of creativity, collaboration and community is also what makes Tech Camp special, she adds. “At Tech Camp, students have the opportunity to be on a college campus surrounded by other kids who share similar interests and the freedom to learn and explore things that interest them. It’s really a unique experience.”
A New Hampshire native and UNH alumna (B.A. in anthropology, M.Ed. in education), Booth loves playing tennis, reading, cooking and exploring a range of artistic endeavors in her free time. She and her husband live in southeastern New Hampshire.
Shannon McCracken-Barber attended the Tech for Teachers Institute in 2021 and has been part of the extended Tech Camp family ever since. In 2022, she returned as a project leader and teaching assistant at Tech Camp and, this past summer, served as an instructor in the Tech for Teachers program. In July 2023, McCracken-Barber assumed the role of project director for the Manchester CREATES workforce development initiative.
“The Tech for Teachers Institute was the most energizing professional development program I ever attended while teaching,” says McCracken-Barber. “Learning about cutting-edge research directly from those doing it added a new spark to my classroom curriculum. That’s something I’m excited about bringing to the greater Manchester community moving forward.”
A former high school STEAM teacher in Farmington and Tilton, McCracken-Barber brings to her new role at Manchester CREATES both an artistic flair and entrepreneurial spirit. In addition to her work as an educator, she is also the founder of the New Hampshire Renaissance Faire, an annual charity event that she owned and managed from 2005-2011, and a fine artist who previously ran two online businesses—one featuring her costume accessories, another handmade jewelry.
Married with two children, McCracken-Barber holds an M.A.T. from Plymouth State University and a B.F.A. from the Maine College of Art. Her office is located in the historic Pandora Mill Building at UNH Manchester.
Fran Meffen, M.S., M.Ed., CAGS
Tech Camp and Tech for Teachers Institute, Community Relations Coordinator
Fran Meffen has been a key member of the Tech Camp team since 2015 and brings to her role a deep understanding of STEAM education, student engagement and project-based learning. A member of the Dover School District Guidance Department for more than two decades, Meffen also founded the Dover Middle School STEAM Academy, an afterschool enrichment program, and served as its director for more than a decade. She has been actively involved in a number youth-oriented community service organizations and social justice initiatives over the course of her career.
“What gets my juices flowing at Tech Camp is seeing the kids so engaged in learning, collaborating, asking questions, solving problems — never holding back,” says Meffen. “With Tech for Teachers, it’s seeing a sense of renewed energy in the educators. They have been given the time and permission to explore, learn about emerging technologies and design a project that they can bring back into their classrooms. This is how you transform education.”
Meffen holds a B.A. in Biology from Drew University; an M.S. in Molecular and Population Genetics from the University of Georgia; an M.Ed. in Guidance and Counseling from Keene State College; and a Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study (CAGS) from Plymouth State University.
Married with three grown children and six grandchildren, Meffen loves to spend time with her family and also enjoys reading, knitting, sewing, singing and baking.
Tech Camp, Manager
Shawn Gygax has been a staff member at Tech Camp since its founding in 2007. Initially serving as a counselor for two years he then transitioned into a leadership role overseeing day-to-day operations of the camp each summer. As the camp manager, he works closely with teachers, staff members, students and parents to ensure a positive experience for all.
What does he like most about Tech Camp? “The excitement the campers have for learning while doing,” he says. “The hands-on, experiential nature of the program makes it fun for everyone.”
A middle school science teacher at Barrington Middle School for the past 18 years, Gygax holds a B.S. in Elementary Education and Natural Science from New England College. Additionally, he has been involved with STEM-related projects at the UNH Ocean Engineering Laboratory and Space Science Center, as well as the SeaPerch program at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.
Married with two sons, Gygax loves to play disc golf and hike in his free time. To date, he has hiked from Maine to Pennsylvania along the Appalachian Trail and hopes to finish the rest in due time, if his knees will cooperate.