MENDOTA HEIGHTS, Minn. (WCCO) — A Twin Cities science teacher is flying high after being named the nation’s Space Educator of the Year.

“I’m very flattered and a little bit surprised,” Mark Westlake said.

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Anyone who’s taken his classes isn’t.

Westlake teaches STEM at Saint Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights.

(credit: CBS)

It’s his job to help motivate students to explore careers in space and science.

“I’ve always had a passion for science,” he said.

Westlake is much more than science teacher. His classroom’s anything but a collection of desks.

In the new Innovation Center at Saint Thomas Academy, students are challenged to shoot for the stars.

“I’d like to think that if I’ve done anything it’s to help that next generation prepare for jobs that don’t exist yet,” Westlake said.

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One of his former students works on the cutting edge SpaceX program in California. And now this teacher is being honored as the nation’s Space Educator of the Year.

“It’s a nice award,” Westlake said. “It means the students have been successful.”

Westlake’s students have put experiments on NASA aircraft. Even designed and built electric vehicles, where they raced and won against Europe’s best.

“This is an example of the quality of work high school students can do if you let them,” Westlake said.

Senior Alex Moeller was on that team and wants to become a mechanical engineer.

“This team has cemented the fact that this is what I really like to do and I love doing it, it’s just my calling I guess,” Moeller said.

A calling that Mr. Westlake’s lessons inspire in every one of his students.

“Any time you get to share your passion with students, I mean that makes coming to work really, really easy,” Westlake said.

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Westlake will travel to Washington, D.C., next Thursday. He’ll receive the award at a dinner put on by the National Space Club Foundation.