Fremd High School engineering teacher recognized as nation's best by nonprofit
In a nation filled with many talented engineering teachers, Fremd High School's Mike Karasch has been recognized as the very best by the Indianapolis-based nonprofit Project Lead The Way.
Though the 1999 alumnus of the same high school in Palatine recently learned he'd been named Engineering Teacher of the Year, he was surprised in his classroom Monday with a presentation of the trophy by representatives of Project Lead The Way, Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 and his own family.
True to his passion for engineering, one of Karasch's first expressions of gratitude was that the transparent trophy was "very nicely made!"
Just as it was for him in the late '90s, Karasch said the appeal of engineering and applied technology to many of his students is the practical use of scientific principles that don't necessarily appeal to them in a purely academic format.
"I think there's sort of a love for solving problems," Karasch said. "They might not be the best in math and science because they haven't been shown the applications. We also push for gender equality. I believe that every kid with the right motivation is capable of these incredible things."
Vince Bertram, president of the 25-year-old nonprofit that helps develop science, technology, engineering and math curricula for schools, said it isn't easy to narrow down the hundreds of nominations it receives each year for teachers who excel in particular subjects.
But those nominations typically focus on something special about a teacher, including how they inspire or are especially effective, he said.
"We really focus on skill development rather than just content knowledge," Bertram said. "How many (students) can really build something based on what they learned? Teaching is hard. It is very complex. People who stand out are pretty obvious."
Karasch already spends part of his summers teaching other teachers how to conduct engineering classes. But Bertram said one of the primary goals of the award is to give him an even bigger platform at Project Lead The Way's future annual summits that will resume next year after being interrupted by the pandemic.
Fremd High School Principal Mark Langer and District 211 Superintendent Lisa Small were among the local officials who attended Monday's surprise presentation.
"It is awesome," Small said of Karasch's national recognition. "We are certainly tremendously proud of Mike and all that he does."
Karasch's father, Thom, said his son becoming an engineering teacher -- and an award-winning one -- at his own alma mater seemed to be the product of a life spent following his passion.
"He's always had kind of a tech fascination," Thom Karasch said. "He would build computers from the raw components before it was the thing to do. He's always had a good reputation as a teacher. I think he had a sense that this is where he wanted to return."