STEAM Coordinator Utilizes Resources to Advance Programming

The young men at Rockhurst High School are constantly asked to look for opportunities to grow and expand their knowledge.  The educators are asked to do the same.

Through graduate degrees, conferences, seminars and specific programs, Rockhurst’s teachers take this ideal to heart.  

With the school’s expanding curriculum in the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) initiative, many of these teachers’ roles are dynamic.  One such teacher is Mr. Paul Winkeler, STEAM Coordinator and Science Department Chair.

At the beginning of this school year, Mr. Winkeler retired from his position as head coach of the swim and dive team, which Coach Wink had led to 11 consecutive State Championships to that point.  He believed that his greatest impact on the school would be through improving the Science Department (where he has worked diligently for many years) in conjunction with STEAM, and that’s where all of his energy should be placed.

In just one semester, Rockhurst has added an Earth Science program and seen heavily increased numbers and participation in the Astronomy Club, as well as new and interactive student projects and activities.  Mr. Winkeler has been improving his own knowledge outside of the classroom, too.

During the week of Jan. 11-15, Mr. Winkeler traveled to Tucson, AZ to participate in a conference run by the Vatican Observatory Foundation, for which he was one of 25 out of 400 applicants who was selected for the opportunity.  The Vatican Observatory has an observatory there; so many Jesuits work in astronomy at the location.  The conference is called "Faith and Astronomy" and is about, as you would guess, astronomy, but in a way that they are discussing the manner in which the divide between science and religion has been portrayed over the centuries and in society and is there really a divide, or if they both one in the same. 

They took several tours; the first day they visited the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, and the next day they went to a lab where they built mirrors for large telescopes, then Thursday they visited Kitt Peak National Observatory. 

“It was a fascinating opportunity for me, in terms of my faith, my new role at Rockhurst, my pastoral role at Rockhurst, and in astronomy.  I look forward to my return and continuing the discussions that I've been a part of here,” Mr. Winkeler said.

Last September, Mr. Winkeler applied for a volunteer ambassador position through the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and NASA.  JPL is a NASA-funded field laboratory in Pasadena, CA. that has produced and managed numerous NASA missions to Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, as well as maintain several space telescopes.  JPL is the premier space exploration lab in the world and is home to some of the top engineers and scientists in the field of astronomy and planetary science.

The Solar System Ambassador Program has representatives in each state and it is their duty to work within their community to communicate the excitement of recent JPL and NASA missions and discoveries.  They are trained through resources at JPL and work with engineers and scientists from the various active missions. 

“Shortly after the holiday break started, I was notified that I was offered the position I applied for and will begin my work shortly.  I look forward to my new position not only enhancing my own courses, but also to bring more astronomy to the entire Rockhurst community as well as reaching out to local Parochial schools,” Mr. Winkeler said.  “In addition I hope to reach out to the teachers at Rockhurst who have children in various organizations to offer my time in hopes of bringing the excitement of space exploration to their group.”

Through his contract with JPL, Mr Winkeler will lead at least four events in the year, which could include presentations at museums, community centers, middle schools and junior highs, Boy Scouts troops, or any number of other groups.

Mr. Winkeler will soon begin his training by corresponding on a regular basis with JPL engineers and scientists as well as participating in a full scale JPL training program.  In addition, there is a good chance that he will be invited to JPL to tour the facility and work on a current function at some time in the future. 

“My new position is about Rockhurst and what I can do for our community as we continue to grow and, as educators, make ourselves the best possible resource for our students, “ Mr. Winkeler said.  “Then it’s about being a leader in Kansas City’s education community.”

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Rockhurst High School

Established in 1910 - Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

9301 State Line Road, Kansas City, MO 64114-3299     816.363.2036