News & Media

In the Spotlight: IU13 educator loves STEM, aviation and baking

02/28/2016 Lancaster Online By Kara Newhouse

As a high school math teacher, Michele Westphal knew her subject wasn't the most thrilling for some teenagers. But when she could find hands-on applications for their calculations and formulas, her classroom "came alive."

Now, Westphal brings learning to life through STEM, which stands for science, engineering, technology and math. Across the country, schools are placing greater emphasis on those subjects as they look to match student skills with emerging job opportunities. Westphal left the classroom 2.5 years ago to join the STEM education team at Lancaster-Lebanon Intermediate Unit 13.

In that role, she organizes design challenges and other STEM events for local students, such as the regional contest for the Governor's PA STEM Competition, which took place Wednesday. She also trains teachers on how to integrate all four STEM subject areas “so they are all blended, and students can see the connections, instead of the silos we currently teach in.”

Age: 39 for a few more days.

Hometown: Lititz/Manheim Township

Current residence: Manheim Township

Family: Husband, Thomas, and chocolate lab puppy, Jersey

Years as a teacher: 12 in the classroom at Manheim Township; three as an adjunct math instructor at the Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences.

Why I became a teacher: My first teaching experiences were as a teenager when I taught children how to swim. The thrill of seeing a child accomplish something they previously could not do because of the support and instruction that I provided was all of the motivation that I needed for education to be my career path. I still get so excited every time I see a student learn something new.

How I got hooked on math: Math always came easily to me. Every math problem was a puzzle, and I loved using the rules and theories to arrive at a solution. I had a phenomenal high school math teacher who inspired me to pursue math education.

Favorite classroom STEM activity: Any activity that requires students to design their own solution to a problem and defend the solution with the appropriate principles and theories.

Favorite non-classroom STEM activity: Aviation. I have my pilot’s license.

A gratifying work moment: After we held our first STEM Awards banquet last year, a parent shared how grateful he was that we recognized his child’s achievements in STEM. He was thrilled that his elementary-school-aged son got to see the STEM accomplishments of the high school winners, so his son would have something to strive for in the future.

A challenging work moment: Educators are being challenged to change the way they do things in the classroom so they can meet the needs of their students and integrate STEM education. Any time I help them to embrace and implement change in their practice is a challenge.

Hobbies: Cooking, baking and reading

If I weren't an educator I'd be: A pastry chef

Currently reading: "Mobilizing the Community to Help Students Succeed" by Hugh B. Price

Book I'd recommend: "Drive" by Daniel H. Pink

Movie I'd recommend: "The Mighty Macs"

Something that's always in my fridge: Sparkling water

My biggest fear: The unknown

How I spend my summers: I work most of the summer, but the best part of my summer is our week of vacation in Ocean City, New Jersey.

Best advice I've received: My grandmother was very influential in my life, and the best way to summarize all of the advice she gave me is: be kind, take care of others and work hard to achieve any goal that I set for myself.

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