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Four Willmar educators selected for NASA workshop

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WILLMAR -- Four teachers from Willmar are among 32 teachers nationwide chosen to participate in a two-week paid internship workshop this summer at a NASA research facility.

Rob Flegel, Margaret Schmitz, John Kuznik and Ben Panchyshyn were notified recently that they had been chosen for the workshop July 18-29.

The four teachers applied for the workshop as a team, one of the requirements. NASA requires teachers to apply in teams of two or four so that they will have a ready support system when they return to their communities.

The Willmar team is one of 10 teams selected. The teams include a total of 32 teachers. More than 200 initially applied for the workshop, which is open to teachers of science, technology, engineering and math classes.

The Willmar team members said they knew they were still in the running after the first review of the applications, because they were asked to do a video conference interview in March. It was during Willmar's spring break, and they were scattered around the state. "We had to pull together to get it done," Schmitz said.

In the application process, the teachers filled out individual and team applications. They obtained letters of support from their administrators and from the community. They were able to send in letters from MinnWest Technology Campus, the University of Minnesota-Morris and others. Eco-Agri Labs Inc. of Willmar has agreed to offer support with equipment they may need.

The team members smiled broadly as they talked recently about their upcoming adventure.

Kuznik and Panchyshyn teach sixth-grade physical science at Willmar Middle School. Schmitz is the science teacher at the Area Learning Center, Willmar's alternative high school, and Flegel teaches physics and ninth-grade physical science at Willmar Senior High.

Panchyshyn said the group will be able to use what they learn in ways that benefit their students and apply to state standards. He said he's looking forward to learning to use new software and having a chance to bring it back to Willmar.

"We'll get to watch rocket scientists," Flegel said as the others nodded. "We get to see stuff we'd never come in contact with around here and be able to relay it to our students."

Kuznik said he's looking forward to sharing that information with his students, too. He also had to seek special permission from his family, because they've had to postpone a planned trip to Disney World.

The kids are a little disappointed, he said, but still supportive of Dad's big opportunity.

Schmitz said some people asked her at first why she applied for the program. "If you don't try, the answer is no," she said, so she and the others decided to give it a try.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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