Sparta High School teacher Mark Meola was named 2023 STEM Teacher of the Year for New Jersey by the Air & Space Forces Association (AFA).
That makes him eligible for the national title awarded by the organization, which includes members of the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Space Force, National Guard and Civil Air Patrol.
“It’s an honor. It’s especially an honor because it comes from a veterans’ organization. For them to recognize a teacher for STEM is a good thing, and for me to be recognized is just such an honor. It’s been a great thing to experience,” he said.
The state AFA group held its annual meeting Aug. 12 at the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Holmdel. Delegates from throughout New Jersey recognized Meola there along with the Civil Air Patrol Cadet of the Year. The meeting marked the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.
Meola’s success comes from his incredible teaching experience, which has elevated students to new levels of robotic engineering.
He has been teaching in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program for 23 years and has written curriculums for nine courses. These classes include Digital Toolkit, Intro to Web Design and Intro to Engineering, to name a few.
He established the robotics engineering program at Sparta High School in 2010 and three years later started to shift the class to a competitive robotics program. Students earned a spot to compete in the 2015 World Championships.
Since the program started, Meola and his students have won numerous awards. In the past five years, they have competed in the World Championships four times. They did not go in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Well I think the talent is already there,” he said. “It’s like having a good field of soil with good seeds and needing to know how to nurture it and grow it into something productive. I have really great kids; they are bright, intelligent and enthusiastic.”
Meola chose STEM because he wanted to change young lives. He focused on robotics because it is a good springboard to introduce students to any of the STEM subjects.
The X factor for robotics team comes from multiple people, including the students, Meola, assistant coach Margaret Incantalupo and the students’ parents, he said.
The current robotics team has a talented young core, Meola said, adding that his goal for this year is to go back to the World Championships and capture the school’s first victory there.