Tamara Markey’s path to becoming a teacher was circuitous. She earned an engineering degree, worked in the oil industry, and was a stay-at-home mom before her life-changing decision to study education.

Now, just a few short years into her teaching career, she has won a stunning accolade: 2019 Indiana Teacher of the Year.

Markey, who teaches high school pre-engineering at the McKenzie Center for Innovation and Technology in Lawrence Township, learned of the award at a surprise ceremony Thursday where she was surrounded by students, colleagues, and family.

“When we talked to you, our team came back after interviews and was like, ‘We got the girl. We got the one,’ ” said Indiana State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick. “Your whole demeanor is passion.”

Over the next year, Markey will have a rare platform to speak publicly about education issues by supporting Indiana Department of Education initiatives and serving as a voice for teachers. As the Indiana Teacher of the Year, she will also be considered for National Teacher of the Year. Markey was stunned by the recognition.

“This is truly an honor to be able to represent all of the teachers, educators in the State of Indiana,” said Markey, who teaches courses from Project Lead the Way, a non-profit organization that provides training and curriculum for project-based learning. “This is the best job that anyone could have. It’s such a privilege, truly a privilege to be an educator.”

For her students, Markey’s selection as state teacher of the year was not much of a surprise.

“I think she’s a really good teacher,” said 10th-grader Jeremiah Smith, who takes engineering and design with Markey. “She always has us something to do, and all the work she does leads us up to build us into what we want to be.”

Over the next year, Markey said she plans to advocate for the importance of meeting the needs of students from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds, as well as “diversity that’s beyond just what the eye sees.”

“If we are able to incorporate and connect learning to our students’ experiences, that’s when magic really happens in the classroom,” Markey said.

As a teacher in Lawrence, Markey has led an effort to encourage girls to study science, technology, engineering, and math. The program connects middle school girls with mentors from the community in engineering or technological fields. It appears to be paying off by increasing the number of girls who take STEM courses in high school, Markey said.

For Markey, teaching has always been a passion but it took her years to make it to the classroom. As a college student, she put aside her love for education for a higher-paying career in engineering.

“I had a counselor say, ‘You know, you’re black, you’re female, and you’re good at math and science. You need to be an engineer,’ ” she said. “But that desire to teach never went away.”

After graduating from Purdue University with a degree in industrial engineering, Markey worked in the oil industry for about nine years. Then, she left that career to stay at home with her children for 12 years. As a stay at home mom, she was active in her children’s schools, allowing her to satisfy a little bit of her desire to be involved in education, Markey said.

Five years ago, she made a dramatic change, going back to school to study education through a Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellow.

When Markey was working in the oil industry, her husband Maurice Markey said he could tell she only did the job because it was expected of her. Now that she’s teaching, she comes home excited about her job every day. “She just has a genuine passion for teaching and what she does,” he said.