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Saint Thomas Academy’s Westlake Named National Geographic Certified Teacher

Mark Westlake, innovation center director and moderator of the Experimental Vehicle Team at Saint Thomas Academy recently completed his requirements to become a National Geographic Certified Educator. The free professional development program from the National Geographic Society recognizes pre-K through 12 educators committed to inspiring and equipping the next generation of explorers, conservationists and changemakers to solve meaningful challenges in their communities and beyond.

As a National Geographic Certified Educator, Westlake can:

  • Advise on National Geographic on content and programming.
  • Lead National Geographic trainings.
  • Serve as a mentor to other educators.
  • Receive early access to new National Geographic programs.
  • Apply for the annual Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship.

He may also contribute to the National Geographic Educator Blog.   

To earn the certification, Westlake completed the program’s three phases:

  1. A workshop to gain an understanding of and skills in furthering National Geographic’s educational mission.
  2. Development and implementation of two activities applying the skills gained in Phase 1 while incorporating a National Geographic resource.
  3. A capstone project that demonstrated his professional growth and student learning.

For his capstone project, Westlake led his students through the design and fabrication of solar-powered LED reading lights for use by students in developing countries. The lesson provided Westlake's students the opportunity to learn about cultural, geographical, environmental, political and economic conditions that drive the need for invention.

“Designing and building small electrical circuits is a key component of any engineering/invention curriculum,” Westlake said. “When our lesson extended outside of the classroom, the students envisioned how they could have a positive effect on others globally. Thinking about how their work effects the environment, how it helps culturally, and lends toward long-term economic improvement, makes the lesson less about how a solar cell works and more about how a solar cell can be used as a tool of change.”

Westlake, a physics instructor prior to being named director of the innovation center, has been with Saint Thomas Academy since 1989. He founded the Experimental Vehicle Team in 2008 and has coached the team to 15 national championships, one international championship and numerous national records. He’s also supported student teams in NASA’s Microgravity University for Educators (MgUE) and the NASA Student Opportunities in Airborne Research (SOAR) programs. Westlake is a previous Space Educator of the Year, National Teacher of the Year for the Air Force Association and a TEKNE Award winner. He is also a master teacher for the Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam program, and served as chairman of the advisory committee for the Solar Car Challenge.