National Teacher of the Year believes foundation in science, technology, engineering and math is key to success.

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Jeff Charbonneau of Washington’s Zillah High School and the 2013 National Teacher of the Year, believes the key to success in nearly every field is having a solid understanding in the STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – fields.

“Whether you’re interested in a career in computers, business, law, architecture, education, medicine, construction, or just about any other subject, being grounded in STEM is invaluable,” Charbonneau says.

Charbonneau, a Central Washington University alumnus, who has taught physics, chemistry and engineering classes at Zillah for more than 15 years, says learning STEM subjects can provide a basic understanding of the principles behind other subjects which on the surface might not seem science related.

“Understanding STEM can provide insights into the basics behind such areas of study as business or architecture or any number of other fields,” he says.

Charbonneau says that for too long people have thought of science as being a difficult subject, or one that doesn’t necessarily apply to their lives.

With that in mind, he says it’s important for science teachers to find ways to incorporate STEM information that interests the student in what they are teaching. For example, he teaches in the heart of central Washington’s Yakima Valley wine country, so he often attempts to teach science in a way that involves the local industry.

“I ask them questions that bring in all aspects of their learning,” he says. “I think we, as educators, have to be able to develop projects that bring in other interests and disciplines in order to more fully engage students.”

Charbonneau says when he first started teaching, he taught science in a more traditional way and found his students were bored. He decided to challenge them by making his courses more difficult. The result has been that students have become more interested in learning and want to perform well in his classes.

“As a teacher, I need to be able to teach the unsearchable questions. I need to be able to teach the questions that can’t be found on the internet,” he said. “My goal is to get them to think and to ask questions, not simply memorize facts.”

Each year Central Washington University graduates thousands of well-educated citizens who are ready for high-demand careers in the workforce: construction management, accounting, engineering technology, teacher education, wine business, paramedicine, aviation and more.