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University of Iowa News Release

Nov. 2, 2005

Click here to view high resolution image. Photo by Tom Jorgensen, University Relations Publications.

Wal-Mart Names Alumnus, Local Science Educator 'National Teacher Of Year'

For all that West Branch Middle School science teacher and University of Iowa alumnus Hector Ibarra knew, he was taking a few dozen of his students on a field trip to the Englert Theatre in Iowa City on Wednesday morning for a performance by "Dr. Science," aka Dan Coffey.

Just a few minutes into the performance, however, Coffey invited Ibarra up on stage and asked him if he liked surprises. Before Ibarra could answer, the curtains lifted to reveal a bevy of well-wishers, representatives of Wal-Mart and Phi Delta Kappa, Ibarra's wife and a son, poster photographs of Ibarra teaching in his classrooms and large signs reading: Wal-Mart National Teacher of the Year.

The audience of students and many of Ibarra's fellow teachers erupted in applause. Ibarra, for his part, looked stunned.

Representatives of Wal-Mart and Phi Delta Kappa -- an association of professional educators that judges the Wal-Mart Teacher of the Year Awards at the state and national levels -- praised Ibarra's innovation in the classroom, where he works with students to build miniature solar-powered cars and explore scientific solutions to today's environmental problems. They gave him a $25,000 check that can be used by West Branch Middle School, a trophy, a plaque and an invitation to fly to Aurora, Colo. in the next couple of weeks for the grand opening of a new Wal-Mart Supercenter that uses solar and wind power and other environmentally friendly methods to help power the store.

Ibarra, who was selected from among all 50 State Teacher of the Year Award winners as well as a winner from Puerto Rico, to become only the 10th Wal-Mart National Teacher of the Year.

"Ibarra's impressive track record of bringing science to life for young people was a strong reason for his selection as the Wal-Mart Iowa State Teacher of the Year earlier this fall," Wal-Mart said in a press release. "From building 'solar cars' that share the power of energy conservation, to activities that demonstrate the impact of daily activities on our environment, Dr. Ibarra is a respected leader in his field and among his students, and is nationally renowned for his work in educating students about the environment."

Ibarra, who holds a Ph.D., a master of science degree and bachelor of science degree -- all in science education -- from the UI, was named Wal-Mart State Teacher of the Year for Iowa earlier this year, netting a $10,000 educational grant, a personalized Teacher of the Year jacket and other prizes, as well as a one-year membership in Phi Delta Kappa. Ibarra's students at West Branch nominated him through the Iowa City Wall-Mart for the local Teacher of the Year Award before he went on to win at the state level.

Born in Mexico in a home near the one-room schoolhouse where his mother was the teacher and learning to speak English in the fourth grade, Ibarra was called a role model for many by Wal-Mart representatives.

"I was blessed to have parents who pushed me even when I didn't want to study," Ibarra said at Wednesday's event. Looking out at the sea of students' faces, he added. "This award isn't really about me, it's about you and what you're learning."

He credited faculty members from the University of Iowa for encouraging him to get his Ph.D., specifically science education faculty members John Dunkhase, who coordinates the program's graduate outreach efforts, and Robert Yager, a professor for 50 years.

"I met John in 1987 when I was working on my master's. He's the one who put all the stuff in my head," Ibarra said, laughing.

He also praised Yager, who was Ibarra's adviser for all three of his UI degrees.

"He set my course right, he set it straight," he said.

A teacher for almost 30 years, Ibarra, who teaches sixth- and seventh-grade general and earth science, was named to the 2002 All-USA Teacher Team, USA TODAY's recognition program for outstanding teachers. The reason given at the time for Ibarra's inclusion on the Teacher Team was his hands-on approach to science education. Ibarra and his students have analyzed the cost of conventional versus fluorescent lighting in the West Branch School District, studied the environmental impact of used automobile oil filters, and have coordinated a project with students in Japan that involved the construction of Lego-based rovers controlled over the Internet.

Since 1992, Ibarra has won nearly $500,000 in grants. And his research into his school district's lighting costs led to the district switching to fluorescent lights, saving taxpayers $1,000 a month. The project was cited by former President Bill Clinton in a 1997 speech in his address on Global Climate Change.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Media: Stephen Pradarelli, 319-384-0007, stephen-pradarelli@uiowa.edu.