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Willmar, Minn., teachers using NASA training in classroom

WILLMAR -- Two weeks at NASA's Ames Research Center left an indelible impression on four Willmar science teachers, and their students are reaping the benefits of their work this year.

The four teachers -- Rob Flegel, Margaret Schmitz, John Kuznik and Ben Panchyshyn -- were among three dozen teachers across the country chosen to participate in a two-week paid internship/workshop at a NASA research facility.

The four went to Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley. They gave a short presentation about their experiences at a Willmar School Board meeting Monday.

The facility has a huge wind tunnel, and they worked in the fields of aeronautics and fluid dynamics.

Flegel and Schmitz were part of a team working on an insulation system for bringing astronauts home from space. "We learned that failure really isn't an option," he said.

While the teachers were often awed by what they were seeing, some of that was directed back at them.

The people they met at NASA were always stressing the importance of education, Schmitz said. "They made us feel really, really important as well, because we were educators."

School Board member Nathan Streed asked them how they are using their experience in their classrooms.

Schmitz said she plans to have her students at the Area Learning Center work in teams to create something. "I'll show them that there are multiple levels of opportunities," she said, and not everyone needs an advanced degree to work for NASA.

Kuznik said he and Panchyshyn came back with ideas for their own classrooms as well as information from NASA to share with social studies and communications teachers.

The teachers said they also learned that the district's students are successful. They met a Willmar Senior High graduate in her second summer internship with NASA who has earned a full scholarship to study for her doctorate at Stanford.

Board Chairman Wayne Lenzmeier said he thought their experience was a good way to show students that NASA is still active, even though the space shuttle program has come to an end.

The four teachers applied for the workshop as a team last winter. 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 group was one of 10 teams chosen from around the country. They participated in a video conference interview in March and provided letters of support from their administrators and the community.

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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