|Wendell G. Mohling Foundation
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Lawrence, Kansas 66044
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A dedicated science educator. A leader of his professional association. A mentor to his colleagues. An ardent environmentalist who not only cherished the planet he lived on, but also had an endless curiosity about the universe.
That is how science teachers nationwide and the NSTA and NASA communities will remember 1992-1993 NSTA President Wendell G. Mohling, who also served as NSTA's Associate Executive Director for Professional Programs, Mohling, 61, died on August 17, 2004 due to complications from a stroke.
'This is a great loss for NSTA and for the entire science education community,' said NSTA Executive Director Gerry Wheeler. 'Wendell was a passionate, enthusiastic, and dedicated science educator and was a great ambassador for the profession. His leadership and expertise helped to unify and strengthen the Association and to grow it into what it is today. He will be deeply missed.'
Growing up on a Nebraska farm, attending a rural school, and experiencing the 1957 Sputnik launch inspired Mohling to pursue a career in science education. He earned a bachelors degree in science education in 1964 from Peru State College in Peru, NE; a masters degree in natural science from the University of Oklahoma in 1968; and a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction from the University of Kansas.
Mohling taught biology and general science for 30 years in schools in Nebraska and Kansas. During that time, he also worked as an environmental education curriculum specialist, a naturalist, a college and university instructor, and director of Shawnee Mission Northwest Hight School's Outdoor Laboratory and Greenhouse Program.
He cared deeply about involving all students in quality science education programs. Living in the landlocked Midwest did not prevent him from providing his students with hands-on experience with oceans, for example. In his 2002 presentation to the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, he explained that 'the ocean environment was always nearby as my students and I spend a great deal of time interacting directly with the tallgrass prairie and deciduous forest ecotone in the school outdoor laboratory that we were successful in establishing. After all, we were walking on the bottom of an ancient ocean!'
A firm believer in the importance of inquiry-based instruction, Mohling was widely quoted as saying, 'Science is not reading science, science is doing science.'
Mohling's passion for aerospace education brought him national attention in 1985, when he was selected as the Kansas state finalist in the NASA Teacher in Space Program - joining fellow science teachers Christa McAuliffe and Barbara Morgan - and named a NASA Space Ambassador. Thought saddened by McAuliffe's death in the following year in the challenger disaster, he continued to work in aerospace education, becoming a regional coordinator for and national faculty member of the Challenger Center for Space Science Education; a charter member of the Teacher in Space Education Foundation, which merged with the Challenger Center in 1987; and a regional coordinator for the Young Astronaut Council.
'When the Challenger accident occurred, we were called upon to change our lesson plans,' he told the Dallas Morning News in 2003 shortly after the Columbia tragedy. 'But we ended up teaching more important lessons to our students about science and life.'
Mohling also played a leadership role in Space Day, an educational initiative that aims to advance science and math education. 'It's not just space for us,' Mohling observed. 'It's the fact that you can use space as a theme in which to motivate students in the learning of science, mathematics, and technology... Anything we're doing in space is also applicable to what we're doing here on Earth.'
In 1998, when NASA tapped Barbara Morgan to become an educator mission specialist, Mohling told Education Week that giving teachers the chance to experience space as astronauts 'provides a new goal, perhaps for many, many young educators,' as well as an opportunity for teachers' skills and talents to be more widely recognized.
'We all loved Wendell. Our loss is huge,' said Morgan. 'But what Wendell gave us we will always have. He saw life as all teachers should see it - with curiosity and love. He was kind, selfless, and inspirational. He connected with everyone, and with the natural world.'
At the state level, Mohling was a devoted member of the Kansas Association of Teachers of Science. He served on the association's board and as its president.
An active NSTA Life Member, Mohling worked on numerous Association task forces and committees and frequently gave presentations at area and national conventions. He served as director of the High School Division on the NSTA Board of Directors during 1988-90 and chaired the program committee for the 1990 area convention in Kansas City.
Mohling chose as his presidential theme 'Go Professional with NSTA!' in an effort to encourage members to 'share the good feeling that comes from within when we return to our profession a measure of the benefits that we have received.' He ultimately developed a vast network of teachers who worked to advance science education and support NSTA.
Also during his presidency, the National Academy of Sciences named Mohling a member of the National Committee on Science Education Standards and Assessment. Members of this committee were instrumental in developing the National Science Education Standards.
In 1993, Mohling joined the NSTA staff as Associate Executive Director of Membership, Conventions, and Professional Programs. He oversaw the planning of all NSTA conventions and worked to strengthen membership and develop professional programs for science education. The strong partnership Mohling established between NSTA and NASA resulted in popular and successful aerospace education programs such as the NASA Student Involvement Program, the NASA Educator Workshops, and the NASA Explorer Schools program.
'Wendell was an outstanding science education leader and a valued member of the NASA education family,' said Frank Owens, NSTA's Visiting Associate Executive Director, who is on loan from NASA. 'He was a man of great influence, integrity, and compassion. His impact on aerospace education will be lasting.'
Mohling's lifelong service to science education brought him many awards. He was among the first educators chosen in 1983 to receive the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, and he was honored with the first Christa McAuliffe Fellowship in Kansas in 1987-1988. He also received the Outstanding Biology Teacher Award for Kansas from the National Association of Biology Teachers in 1977, the Conservation Educator of the Year Award from the Kansas Wildlife Federation in 1980, and the Outstanding Conservation Teacher Award from the Burroughs Audubon Society in 1982.
Mohling is survived by his wife Carol and daughter Maria.
Source: NSTA Reports, September/October 2004, Jodi Peterson