Travis Dodds
Courtesy of the Milken Family Foundation

Classroom hero: Richmond alum earns top award

June 21, 2024


This spring, the school gathered into Atlee High School’s gym for a pep rally. But this time, the cheerleaders and students were not rooting for the football team but a big announcement about a teacher.

They soon learned that science teacher and department chair Travis Dodds was receiving the Milken Educator Award, nicknamed “the Oscars of teaching.” Across the U.S., 75 teachers are honored with the award, which comes with a $25,000 unrestricted cash prize. This is the first time a teacher from Hanover County (Va.) Public Schools received the award.

Science teacher Travis Dodds receives a $25,000 check as part of the Milken Educator Award.
Courtesy of the Milken Family Foundation

“My first reaction was total disbelief.  That kind of thing doesn't happen for teachers, and especially not for someone like me,” said Dodds, who earned a master’s degree from the School of Professional and Continuing Studies at the University of Richmond.  “Once I started to process what was happening, I was filled with overwhelming gratitude.”

Students, faculty, and staff cheered as Dodd received his award. The speakers included Milken Educator Awards Founder Lowell Milken, who traveled from California to present Dodds with the national award. Others in attendance included Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin and State Superintendent Lisa Coons.

“Travis Dodds is incredibly worthy of the Milken Educator Award, not only because he is a great teacher, but because he is an innovator who cares about every student in our building,” said John Wheeler, principal of Atlee High School.

Dodds is a graduate of Atlee High School. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science from Virginia Tech, Dodds was unsure where his journey would lead. “I started as a part-time teacher to fill my time while I figured out my career path, but ended up loving the classroom,” Dodds said.

He received his teacher licensure in 2014 and his Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction in 2016 from SPCS.

"The UR teaching program set a strong foundation for me as a teacher,” Dodds said. “Not only did my professors prepare me for the basics like classroom management, but they also instilled a strong desire to always be growing and improving as a teacher.”

His professors encouraged him to try new things in the classroom. Then, if things didn’t go as planned, to adjust his plan and learn from the experience, he said.

A National Board-Certified teacher, he has taught at Atlee for 10 years and teaches AP Biology, anatomy, and physiology. His popular classes fill up quickly.

“I think student ownership of learning is important, so I will often have students create their own projects or experiments based on what they feel is important,” he said.  “This might look like setting students up with materials and an end goal but letting them work through the scientific process to reach that goal.”

His students excel — 74% of his students pass the AP Biology exam, compared to the national average of 64%.

“Virtually all of us can point to an outstanding teacher who ignited our passion for learning and the confidence to pursue life’s opportunities,” Milken said. “Travis Dodds instills in his students a love of science and the skills, knowledge, and experiences to succeed in a rapidly changing world. The Milken Educator Award is a testament to his outstanding commitment to excellence, profound influence on students, and potential for leadership in the profession for decades to come.”