Minnesotan named national Teacher of the Year

A rural Minnesota teacher whose students build equipment for NASA space flights and cars that get 500 miles per gallon has been named Teacher of the Year by a national group devoted to career and technical education.

Luke Becker, who teaches agricultural technology and physics at Braham Area High School, was honored by the Association for Career and Technical Education. The school in Braham, a town of 1,800 residents some 60 miles north of the Twin Cities, has about 200 students enrolled.

Another Minnesota educator, Brad Greiman , a professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota, was honored by the group as Teacher Educator of the Year for his 42 years as an agricultural educator both at the high school and university levels.

In Becker’s eight years at Braham, his students have filled a trophy case with awards from technology competitions, with his teenagers beating teams from prestigious universities such as Cal Poly, Texas A&M and Louisiana Tech. The students have special expertise in building supermileage vehicles, with one entry finishing second in the world in a high-level competition.

Braham students also have designed and constructed several projects for NASA, including an automatic feeder for mice used in zero-gravity experiments and a washing machine that can function in an environment where air and water don’t mix and soap can’t be used. The students’ work was noticed by MIT, which awarded the school a $10,000 grant for work on the washing machine project.

Credit for the award goes to his students, Becker said.

“No teacher has ever won an award that their students didn’t deserve,” Becker said. The award was announced at an annual conference, with the ceremony held virtually. Each winner was given two minutes to speak, and Becker said he was overcome with emotion when it was his turn.

“Everyone else was calm, cool and collected, and I broke into tears about a third of the way through,” he said. “I firmly believe you win awards like this not because you’re a great teacher, but because you have great students who go the distance.”

Greiman was honored for his lifetime body of work, which included a complete redesign of the U’s agricultural education curriculum and strengthening the mentoring of students and teachers early in their careers. Greiman also helped land a grant of nearly $3.5 million to the U from the CHS Foundation, the largest grant in the foundation’s history. The grant allowed the university’s ag ed program to upgrade its teaching facilities and laboratories for more hands-on experiences for the students.

“Science-based teaching is so critical in agriculture today — helping the students see what’s the science behind it, what’s the math behind it,” Greiman said. “We want to engage our students in doing things,” not just in classroom lectures.

In a neat turn of fortune, Becker was a student of Greiman’s at the U. It’s believed to be the first time in the association’s 95-year history that the Teacher of the Year had been a student of the Teacher Educator of the Year.

“It’s hard to comprehend that could happen,” Greiman said. “But as we always say, one of the rewards as an educator is seeing your students succeed.”