Gary Shelton: MNAFA Teacher of the Year

Gary Shelton: MNAFA Teacher of the Year

Published August 2, 2022

Gary Shelton won the State of Minnesota Teacher of the Year award from the Air Force Association for excellence in teaching STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) to the next generation. His nomination is currently being considered at the national level.

Among many accomplishments last year, Mr. Shelton’s Robotics Team won big awards for their Supermileage car. The team competed for the first time at the Minnesota Technology and Engineering Educators Association competition.  Their car won the Quality Craftsmanship award–only the 2nd time in the competition’s 33-year history that a rookie team has won this award. They also placed 2nd overall in the electric division with their energy efficient go-kart.

Shelton loves to point out that the students themselves did the design and construction that won the first place craftsmanship award and made changes up to the last minute that caused them to win 2nd place overall.

For 25 years, he worked at an engineering firm which he started.  He loved the work, but 25 years is a long time, and he eventually sold the company. “After that, I was looking for something meaningful to do with my time.” Shelton had been volunteering at SWCHS, and knew our school needed an Engineering Department, so he was hired to start it. 

He currently teaches two levels of CAD, Computer Aided Design, courses in which students create computerized models of real things, and then refine their projects to create them in real life using a 3D printer. He also teaches two engineering courses, metal working, and he has a select group of students in addition to his Robotics team who meet after school to work on what he calls “very challenging projects.” 

This extracurricular group gives students who really love engineering the chance to use the equipment in the lab to solve college-level and beyond projects.  It’s not a course for credit because, as he says, it’s the best kind of learning: that which is done for the love of the experience, not a grade.

He adds, “My favorite part of teaching the Pro-Tech courses is helping students create things limited only by their own imaginations—oh, and the size of our 3D printer!”

The Robotics team reflects Shelton’s love of creating real-world things from an idea.  “I think the Robotics Team offers unparalleled opportunities to learn to collaborate and make something that actually moves and can safely carry people.”

Gary may have gray hair, but his energy and twinkling eyes light up like a teenager when he shows off the equipment he teaches students to use. He dreams about new programs to teach and works long hours to build his courses and support his Robotics team. Next up is the new welding program. “We have six booths where students will do actual welding projects.  I’m really proud of my students and love working with them to create in real life the ideas in their heads!”

It’s what Shelton always returns to: he is thrilled by engineering because he thinks it’s magical to have an idea, just a series of thoughts, become reality.