Rodney Schafer practices what he teaches, so well in fact that the Burrell School District rocketry instructor received national attention for his skills.
Schafer, a 30-year maintenance employee who has led the district's rocketry program for 17 years, served on a team recently honored with a first-place finish in the U.S. National Association of Rocketry's annual competition. While Schafer has led student teams to top finishes in national competitions to build the best rocket, this accomplishment was personal.
Schafer's team earned the title in the competition that tested rockets built for their flight ability, which includes launching to certain altitudes, carrying safely delicate cargo like eggs, and returning safely with cargo intact.
Schafer brings his national title back to the classroom this fall to continue inspiring middle and high school students to design, construct, and launch their own rockets. It's a humbling recognition that underscores Schafer's passion for the science of rocketry that he continues to share with students.
"I get to show that. It's just a lot of fun," Schafer said.
This isn't Schafer's first time to be recognized on the big stage. He was the 2006 team division national champion in the U.S. National Association of Rocketry finals and has been a part of two U.S. National Association of Rocketry championship teams, traveling to both Serbia and Slovakia to compete against countries from around the world.
"To say that his calling is a teacher is an understatement," said high school principal Dr. John Boylan. Schafer's gift is encouraging students who otherwise wouldn't participate in certain school activities to join the rocketry program he founded in 2004, Boylan said.
Schafer's "day job" includes serving the district's maintenance department and school facilities, ensuring their safe and continuous operation. His role as a non-traditional teacher includes coaching students in rocketry engineering, but more broadly offers them experience in team building, goal setting and the satisfaction of completing an important mission.
After three decades with the Burrell School District, Schafer continues to enjoy his service to his colleagues and his students, who also have been honored for their rocketry skills. Four of his student teams have made it to the finals in the past – two middle school teams in 2004-05 and two high school teams in 2012-13.
"Every day is something different," Schafer said.