Building relationships with students is Michael Kunselman's favorite part of his job as an engineering teacher and FabLab adviser at Gahanna Lincoln High School.
That positive rapport played a key role in his selection as the high school winner in the Columbus Parent/ThisWeek Community News 2018 Teachers of the Year contest.
Gahanna Lincoln junior Zach Parsons, who has had Kunselman as a teacher for three years, nominated Kunselman because he's helpful and allows students to show their creativity in the classroom.
"He does this through computer work and hands-on activities," Parsons wrote. "Mr. Kunselman helps keep our school updated and looking like new through his work in the Lincoln FabLab, where students create designs for the school and community and see them come to life all around them."
Kunselman said he enjoys building lasting relationships with students and influencing their career paths.
"The biggest challenge is getting kids to think creatively and to treat my class less like school and more like a job," he said. "Students often come in with the mentality they must do whatever it takes to get an A, which halts their ability to think outside the box."
For this year's Teachers of the Year contest, readers nominated educators from school districts all over central Ohio. Nominations were taken online from Jan. 3 to Feb. 14. The editorial staffs from Columbus Parent and ThisWeek chose 15 finalists and put them up for a public vote March 5 through April 2.
Three winners were chosen: one each at the elementary, middle and high school levels.
Kunselman, 33, was honored at a May 2 award ceremony at the school.
The Pickerington native cited several people who influenced his decision to become an educator, including Pete Laihr and Ken Schneider, two of his high school teachers who taught subjects similar to what he now teaches.
"My mother was also a second-grade teacher for 30 years in Amanda-Clearcreek, and I always enjoyed going to school with her," said Kunselman, who graduated from Ohio State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in technology education.
Kunselman, who has taught in Gahanna for three years, previously spent seven years as an engineering teacher at New Lexington High School and a year in the same role in the Worthington City School District.
The Bexley resident and his wife, Juli, are parents of an infant son, Hayes.
Kunselman said the Teachers of the Year recognition shows him the value of the unconventional educational environment he fosters in the fabrication lab, where students learn by working with laser cutters, 3D printers, a textile lab and other technologies.
"My classroom is far from typical, and I am sometimes unsure if what I'm doing is working," Kunselman said. "This award has substantiated my efforts and relationships I'm building with kids."
Principal Bobby Dodd said Kunselman is one of the most innovative and passionate teachers not just at Gahanna Lincoln but also the state.
"I previously worked with Mike, and I knew when I came to Gahanna we needed to get Mike on our team," Dodd said. "He does a fantastic job of facilitating his classroom and lab in a way that keeps students engaged and allowing their creativity to continue to grow daily."
What Kunselman has done with the FabLab in the short time he has been in Gahanna is truly amazing, Dodd said.
"He has helped create a program that is well known around the country," he added. "Mike and a group of students will be presenting at the National Principals Conference in Chicago this summer, sharing his teaching methods and culture of quality work with administrators.
"We are extremely proud of Mike and his dedication to our students and community," Dodd said.
When the FabLab creates projects outside the school, Kunselman puts that money toward improving the program.
"Overall, he is a great teacher that brightens up anybody's day that he talks to and meets," Parsons wrote. "His students have much respect for him because of how much he cares about them."