Building relationships with students is Bexley resident 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 awards.

Meanwhile, Reynoldsburg teacher Rob Niedermeyer, who lives in east Columbus near Bexley, keeps science sizzling for seventh-graders at STEM Middle at Baldwin Road Junior High School, building aquaponics systems, nurturing greenhouse plants, even incubating eggs and hatching chickens.

His efforts led to his selection as the middle school winner in the contest.

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. Rita Crego, a first-grade teacher at Taylor Road Elementary School in Reynoldsburg was the elementary school winner.

Michael Kunselman

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.”

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.

Kunselman 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 in the state of Ohio.

“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.”

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.”

Rob Niedermeyer

Niedermeyer, 38, said every project begins with a “real-life” challenge.

“My favorite part of this job is seeing what the kids create and how they solve problems,” he said. “The students dive right in and come up with some amazing solutions that show their content knowledge and solve the problem.

“My goal is to challenge them with problems they might see in the real world,” he said.

Seventh-grade language arts teacher Erin Gilbert nominated Niedermeyer for the recognition.

“Rob is not afraid to try something new and continues to keep up with popular trends and new science discoveries,” Gilbert said. “He has such a calming spirit, so students really respect him and enjoy his classes.

“He lets students stay after school to work on missing assignments or projects they want to complete.”

Niedermeyer was honored at an April 27 assembly at the school. The sixth-grade band performed, and students read comments about his impact on them. Gilbert told him, “You have helped me grow so much this year, whether it is helping me with curriculum, or helping me through my day by sending me a text and asking how I’m doing.”

Middle school students are Niedermeyer’s favorite age group to teach.

“These kids are just starting to develop who they are as people,” he said. “I love their personalities. They are goofy, funny and still kids – they really crack me up.”

Niedermeyer, who is in his third year at Baldwin, teaches seventh-grade science and environmental science. He also leads the STEM Outdoor Innovation Lab, an indoor-outdoor space aimed at helping students learn about sustainability and growth.

Before coming to Reynoldsburg, Niedermeyer taught in Pickerington, spending two years each at Tussing Elementary School and Diley Middle School.

He and his wife, Amanda, have an infant son, Carter.

Niedermeyer earned a bachelor of science degree in human ecology in 2004 from Ohio State University. He graduated from Ashland University bachelors-plus master’s teacher licensure program in 2009, and earned a master’s degree in science in education from Ashland in 2017.

Education was not his first career choice, however.

“Both my parents were educators, and I spent a lot of time in their schools when I was a kid,” he said. “However, I originally majored in architecture and engineering at Ohio State. Then I took a few education courses and eventually ended up changing my major to education.”

Baldwin’s interim principal, Amy Gengo, said Niedermeyer is an ideal candidate for Teachers of the Year honors.

“Rob builds positive relationships with his students, creating a safe and caring environment,” she said. “He designs creative, thought-provoking lessons that engage students and challenge them to apply their knowledge, and he makes content relevant and exciting.

“I am very honored that I am able to work with teachers that possess such a great passion for teaching,” she said.

Niedermeyer said like any job, the education profession is not without its difficulties.

“The biggest challenge is developing curriculum that engages every student, while challenging them at their own level,” he said. “If not planned well, projects can be fun, but very easy. Or they can be very challenging, and then the student becomes distant and not engaged.

“A lot of planning and collaboration goes into a project that meets both needs,” he said.