By day, Rodney Schafer works in maintenance at Burrell School District. But as soon as the school day ends, he sheds his maintenance moniker and steps into the role of rocketry instructor, a title he’s held at the district for 16 years.
Shafer established the district’s rocketry program in 2004, which competes in the American Rocketry Challenge every year. This event challenges middle and high school students to design, construct, and launch a rocket based on a set of annual criteria.
This year, the rocket must carry a raw egg 800 feet in the air, stay in the air for 40-43 seconds, and make a safe landing.
“I like competing, and I like getting to share what I have learned with the students in the district,” said Schafer.
Eight students at the middle school and three students at the high school are competing this year. They will work on their models until about March, when they’ll start trying to qualify for finals in Washington, D.C.
Schafer has had four teams make it to the finals in the past – two middle school teams in 2004-05 and two high school teams in 2012-13.
“Rodney Shaffer is a passionate, patient, and kind educator who always brings out the best in our students,” said high school principal Dr. John Boylan. “The team has competed and demonstrated success at both the state and national levels thanks to our students and their dedicated leader.”
While Schafer may be a non-traditional teacher, he has the experience to back up his skills. 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.
“It’s a top-of-the-line competition, sort of like the Olympics,” said Schafer. “You have to be on your game.”
Unfortunately, his team did not win a medal, but the experience continued to ignite his passion for rocketry and sharing his knowledge with students.
“NASA and all these companies are going to need engineers,” said Schafer. “That’s the purpose of the program: to teach kids to work as a team, have a mission, and complete that objective each year.”
“I wish they had it when I was in school,” he continued. “It’s a neat opportunity.”