UTeach Alumna Aims for the Stars
Rachal Roessler teaches chemistry and physics at Lorena High School, between Belton and Waco on the I-35 corridor in Texas. Ms. Roessler received her Master of Arts in Chemistry Education through UTeach Austin in 2010. This summer, she took a team of 12 students to the International Space Settlement Design competition at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Each year, students from all over the world gather to compile and submit Requests for Proposal (RFPs) for proposed space colonies. Roessler’s students were on the winning team, an historic accomplishment for first-time attendees of this prestigious competition.
There are two ways that students can compete in the International Space Settlement Design competition: Students can attend Regional contests and advance to the summer competition as finalists, or they can enter the online competition in hopes of earning a spot as an invited team. Although Roessler had a student who was in a leadership position on a winning team at the Regionals at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, that student was not invited to compete at the summer event. “We were disappointed that we were so close to having a Lorena student there for the summer competition,” recalls Roessler.
But the Lorena students were not ready to give up. “The students who attended remembered that we could enter the online competition and possibly earn our right to compete in the summer.” Roessler gathered a group of 12 students with diverse skillsets and worked on the weekends from seven in the morning until ten at night to compile their RFP for their space colony. “After four weeks we had prepared a 40-page RFP with all citations formatted, original artwork, and a website with the artwork online for the judges to access. We received word at the end of May that we were an Invited team.”
The team traveled to Cape Canaveral this summer, along with hundreds of others from across the globe. While the first few hours in Florida among students from larger, urban magnet schools were a bit overwhelming for these students from a small school district, the Lorena students adapted quickly to the situation. “I had told my student president to go after the president role. I felt that he had the ability to lead and win the competition. On the initial day, my student president started to meet and greet people. By the end of the night he was elected the president of Vulture Aviation, which included schools from California, Wales, Uruguay, and India,” says Roessler.
After participating in Red Team interviews with the judges and giving their final presentations, Vulture Aviation was declared the winner of the competition, a monumental accomplishment for the Lorena students. “Honestly it was surreal when they announced Vulture Aviation as the winner. We learned while we were there that no one knew of a school getting invited on their first submission. We also learned that the other schools had been working on this project since October. The online competition is supposed to be more challenging than the regional competitions. When we learned all of that, we were truly floored by what we had accomplished.”
Roessler credits her time in the UTeach program for her students’ success.
“In the program, I was pushed to want to be a better teacher. The professors made us think about what we were teaching and made us wrestle with why it was important,” Roessler explains. “It was about tapping the exploratory mind in order to deepen the learning. I also emphasize good quality labs in which the students have the opportunity to examine and question the science concepts.
“I feel that these skills were vital to my team that went to Florida. I heard many of the other chaperones and personnel discuss how independent and deep thinking my students were while at the same time balancing that with the practical side of thinking. They were also determined to win and finish it together as a family. This is the same attitude I had with my other cohort teachers who I graduated with in the UTeach program. I feel that those teachers I graduated with are more like a family than friends.”
Another outcome of her UTeach experience is Roessler’s belief that science education goes beyond the classroom. “The professors made us think about various issues in curriculum and in education politics. They taught us to be positive and influential leaders on our campuses and in our community. Their passion for improving science education is present in me today. I am always learning. What we do in the classroom should prepare these students for a diverse future. It’s not okay to be mediocre.”