COTOPAXI – Rae Ann Dotter, a teacher at Cotopaxi Consolidated Schools, has been named Challenger Learning Center National Teacher of the Year for 2015. The award — named for Turner Wiley, former Chief of NASA’s Communication Branch for Engineering at Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland — honors teachers who perform exemplary work in science education. This award was developed to recognize those educators who are working in classrooms and Challenger Learning Centers to cultivate the next generation of space science explorers. Dotter received the award at STEM BootCamp — a joint effort of Challenger Colorado and the United States Air Force Academy — Tuesday through Thursday at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Cotopaxi teacher Randi Dotter is presented with Teacher of the Year awards by former Flight Director Jay Stutz from the Challenger Learning Center of

Cotopaxi teacher Randi Dotter is presented with Teacher of the Year awards by former Flight Director Jay Stutz from the Challenger Learning Center of Colorado, during a school assembly in May of 2012 when she was first honored by the Challenger organizations. (Courtesy Photo)

Dotter, a 1985 Air Force Academy graduate, is a two-time winner of the Wiley Award having previously earned the distinction in 2012. She teaches chemistry and physical science at Cotopaxi but does so much more to involve students in STEM activities. Dotter is the driving force behind her school’s dedication to exposing multiple grade levels to Challenger programs which accentuate teamwork as well as many other skills.

“As a teacher, I appreciate the application of reading, writing, math and problem-solving skills that is built into every Challenger scenario. The students can see the value of their learning applied to a real-world situation,” Dotter said. “During every mission I see their confidence grow, new relationships develop, mutual respect takes root and teamwork synergizes as they work together to succeed. With Challenger Learning Center’s help, the sky is not the limit for our students’ dreams.”

Challenger, and its parent company the Colorado Consortium for Earth and Space Science, works to improve and enhance science education opportunities in the state. Challenger integrates space experiences inside and outside of the classroom using state approved curriculum, technology, support and training for teachers and students. The Challenger Center, located in northern Colorado Springs at 10215 Lexington Drive, conducts student-run space simulated missions on site and through video conferencing, as well as offering summer camps and public missions for all ages.

Dotter retired from the Air Force in 2005 after 20 years active duty as an instructor/evaluator pilot and four years as a chemistry professor at USAFA. Cotopaxi lies along the Arkansas River at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and a little more than 30 miles southwest of Cañon City. Its consolidated K-12 school averages 110 students and is considered impoverished — designated Title I. Those factors have forced Dotter to find creative ways to fund the school’s Challenger missions.

“Class missions are self-funded primarily by our student volunteers who sell hot chocolate, coffee, and student-baked muffins each Thursday morning during the school year,” Dotter said. “Students also work at the concession stand for sporting events and raise additional funds to pay for mission patch t-shirts and the pizza lunch on mission day. I believe that if students participate in earning the trip, it means that much more when they succeed.”

Growth is the only option for Dotter’s students and she’s willing to think outside the book and the classroom to achieve success.

“As a science teacher, I do not believe in teaching strictly from a book. Hands-on, relevant learning is the best way to make a lasting impression,” Dotter said. “I believe that my classroom has no bounds – in other words, I want students to know science is everywhere, in everything, and that they can have a role in the next generation of scientists, engineers, and explorers. STEM lays the foundation on which we can build a better world.”

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