Frenship teacher helps create Droidbuilders STEAM Academy, taking activities to Europe convention

Published: Apr. 17, 2023 at 11:01 PM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - A Frenship teacher is gaining international recognition for her work helping kids fall in love with STEAM learning, after presenting activities at Star Wars Celebration Europe.

Nancy Schunke helped create and is the program director for the Droidbuilders STEAM Academy, a group of educators across the nation who collaborate and share a love for the movie franchise and teaching.

“I just got involved with this community and have done several events with them. We’ve done a lot of things over Zoom, especially during COVID,” Schunke said. “Just talking and sharing and, you know, getting to know each other and helping each other because there’s just a lot of things I didn’t know.”

It does not take long after being in Schunke’s classroom to figure out her favorite film franchise. The Chemistry and Engineering teacher fell in love with Star Wars after seeing ‘A New Hope’ at seven years old.

“It was just so different, you know, in the space battles and epic adventure and all this kind of stuff. It had a strong female character, which is really fun for me. And then also the droids, I mean R2-D2, C-3PO, we just all went crazy for them,” she said.

That sci-fi spark led her to become a STEAM teacher, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math. When part of that job became coaching robotics nearly 20 years ago, she needed some guidance. She eventually found the Droid Builders Organization, an international group that builds Star Wars droids, bringing her two passions together.

“I was like, ‘you’re telling me I can build a Star Wars droid like R2 or BB-8?’ And they’re like, ‘yeah, you really can.’ And I was just, I was hooked,” she said.

She helped create and now leads the Droidbuilders STEAM Academy, which connects teachers across the country who love Star Wars and want to incorporate fun activities inspired by the franchise in their classrooms.

The academy has presented at several Star Wars conventions since then, connecting kids of all ages with STEAM activities. Schunke just got back from London, where she presented and taught at this year’s Star Wars Celebration Europe.

“The kids will make things, and then they’ll go show the droids. It’s adorable. So, it’s really fun to see them really getting a lot out of it,” Schunke said.

She’s bringing those lessons home, inspiring students here on the South Plains.

“She’s very passionate and I like that. She like enjoys engineering, you can tell she cares about it, and she cares about her students, too,” ninth grader Joseph Sena said.

A woman in STEAM, Schunke encourages young girls like Madelynn Van Hoose, a ninth grader who loves technology and art.

“A lot of things now are especially becoming very technological and just technology is being integrated into a lot of things. So, it’s really cool to be able to combine drawing and bringing those things to life in 3D instead of just being 2D on paper or something,” Van Hoose said.

Schunke says she has had droid builders from all different backgrounds in her classroom, like accountants, engineers and even NASA employees. They all have encouraged her students, saying they can have a bright future in STEAM.

The Grant Imahara STEAM Foundation, a non-profit founded to honor the late Mythbusters host, funded the Droidbuilders STEAM Academy at Celebration. Schunke says she hopes to bring the academy to other conventions outside of Star Wars Celebration soon.