Vol State Instructor Uses NASA Experience to Teach
Trigonometry is one of those subjects that can seem removed from practical life. Mike Welham knows a way to bring it home for students. He takes the conversation into space. “In trigonometry I talk about how we put a satellite in orbit,” Welham said. “You burn the engines to boost the satellite. There is a formula for that. You can calculate it using trigonometry.” Welham isn’t just speaking theoretically. He’s actually worked to put satellites in orbit. The Volunteer State Community College instructor served at NASA for twenty years. He had posts at Marshall Space Flight Center, where he was on the team for the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, and then at the Glenn Research Center, where he helped to develop the ground system, and train astronauts, for the International Space Station. “When I give them my background, I have huge credibility with the students. I can give them real world experience for just about everything they’re learning.” Welham teaches math classes at Vol State. It may seem a long way from astronautics, but for Welham teaching is a passion. “I was retired from NASA and sitting at home playing X-Box and doing wood carving and I was kind of bored. I came to Vol State to audit a course. Nancy Morris (dean of Math and Science at Vol State) told me I would need a math background for that. So, I explained my math background. She said, I would be more than happy to let you audit the course, but why aren’t you teaching here? Within three weeks I’m teaching four classes.” Welham doesn’t just confine his teaching to the Vol State campus. He’s part of the NASA Speakers Bureau. Recently, he talked to a classroom full of kindergarten students about space exploration at Merrol Hyde Magnet School in Hendersonville. “Getting to be with those kids, I get to be a kid again,” Welham explains. “I tell them what they have to learn to do stuff in space, even going to the bathroom. They have what is called a butt cam, so you can align your butt when you go. The kids just laugh and laugh.” Welham has an inside track for fun things to show and tell in the classroom. “I have a good friend who is the Deputy Project Manager with the NASA Orion Project (deep space exploration) and she sends me stuff I can give to the kids.” With twenty-seven years’ experience in the U.S. Air Force and twenty years with NASA, one could forgive the 68 year-old if he wanted to slow down. But after talking to Welham, you quickly realize that’s the last thing on his mind. “Now I’m going to do what I love to do: teaching. This is my dream job; this is what I always wanted to do.” For more information about Math and Science programs at Vol State visit www.volstate.edu/MathScience or call 615-230-3261. ### Pictured: Welham visits with students in Tracy Duncan’s kindergarten class at Merrol Hyde Magnet School in Hendersonville.