Out of the Classroom, Into Space

Tucson high school math teacher Mike Schmidt was one of the first Pathfinder astronauts in the Teachers in Space program. Teachers in Space is a NASA-sponsored project that educates teachers on suborbital astronautics, with the intention of sending teachers on suborbital flights in the future. According to Schmidt, this proud and adventurous career began at Northern Arizona University. "I look back on my undergraduate experience at NAU as the most important and influential time in my development as a teacher," he says. “I utilize the theories and concepts from my education classes and the practical applications learned from my methods classes on a daily basis."

Finding success

Schmidt credits his professors with contributing to some of his success as a teacher. "I was blessed to have a very wide range of professors with backgrounds and experiences from multiple academic environments," he says. His student teaching was also a way for him to broaden his interests. "Through NAU, I was able to complete my student teaching experience in Germany at a Department of Defense Dependent School,” Schmidt says. “I treasure my student teaching in a way that few teachers do.”

Within ten years of graduating from Northern Arizona University, he was named the Flagstaff area’s Wal-Mart Teacher of the Year in 2002, and a Flinn Foundation Honored Educator in 2005. Schmidt was also honored as one of the first Teachers in Space. As part of this program, he designs the curriculum that will be used to help prepare the thousands of teachers who will be participating in suborbital educational flights. He is among a small group of "Pathfinders" who will lead the way for the large numbers of astronaut teachers who follow. These Pathfinders will be the first teacher-astronauts to fly in space and return to the classroom.

He is at the cutting edge of a shift in how educators teach math and science and how students learn. "I have already seen the way that my own training experiences have helped my students find a renewed interest in math and science. As the program grows to send two hundred teachers into space each year, this excitement will be shared with many teachers and multitudes of students," he says.

Schmidt believes his education at Northern Arizona University was an important catalyst for his future career. "I look back at my time at NAU as the critical first step that prepared me for this indescribably amazing journey."