Teaching With an Impact

Justin Bode, U’05 teaches a lesson on dissection … and life to Leavenworth High’s Honors Anatomy students.

Used to standing in front a classroom of students, two alumni, Justin Bode, U’05, and Brenden (BJ) Olesen, U’16, proved to be an inspiration to not just high schoolers, but USM faculty, staff, and our STEM scholars. The pair spoke at a Spring Lunch & Learn about their styles of teaching, which centered on the type of learning environment they create for their students at Leavenworth High School.

Justin, an anatomy and biology teacher, admits his approach to teaching has dramatically changed from his first year to now, viewing himself as more of a “facilitator of learning” these days. “If the students are having fun, and I’m having fun, then it’s a great learning environment,” explained Justin. “It’s a very free environment in my classroom. I give them a lot of autonomy, but I also hold them to the highest expectations.

They know that with every decision, there’s a consequence—and that’s a life lesson they can carry through their lives.” Justin’s students have responded well to his approach, and his model for classroom management actually earned him a spot as a regional semi-finalist for the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) “Kansas Teacher of the Year” award.

Similarly, BJ, a mathematics teacher, has adopted a similar style. He’s taken less-than-awesome math lessons to outside-the-box places of learning. Most students don’t associate fun with math, but BJ has changed that at Leavenworth High. And this effort hasn’t gone unnoticed— BJ was nominated for the KSDE Kansas Horizon Award program—an outstanding honor for new teachers across the state.

Both also pour class time into teaching about failure. Justin said his students actually ask him, “Are you setting us up to fail?” Justin’s response: “Failure isn’t the end all. Failure is where we start. The people who discovered DNA and genetics didn’t do it the first time. It wasn’t instant gratification for them. And that’s really what life is about.”

Justin and BJ—you inspire us. You are teachers teaching life lessons— the kind of teachers who will be remembered for a lifetime!


The STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) Scholars Program at USM, funded by a generous grant from the National Science Foundation, empowers students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, or math. Participants can receive scholarships worth up to $10,000 per year, along with incredible opportunities to experience STEM first-hand.

This year marked a special year for the program. Not only did 14 students receive support. Mary Perez, one of the inaugural STEM Scholars, graduated. Mary now works at Preferred Physical Therapy (Lansing, Kan.) as a rehabilitation technician in preparation to applying to physical therapy programs next year.

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STEM Scholars Program


  • Peer tutoring sessions before critical assignments in science and math classes.
  • Lunchtime lecture series—we hosted six speakers talking about research interests, graduate school experiences, careers, and were treated to a demonstration of USM’s own drone.
  • Semester field trips.
    Fall: Viewing of “Mummies of the World” exhibit at Union Station Spring: Tour of Quest Diagnostics, courtesy of alum, Linda Zuchowski, U’82. Spring: Viewing of the “Dream Big” documentary at Union Station
  • Students attended the American Chemical Society Regional Meeting, along with the Heartland Undergraduate Biochemistry Meeting
  • Five students took on semester-long research projects.

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