Suzie Flentie

BOZEMAN - Montana teacher shares three decades of passion for sharing science and technology.

Growing up on a central Montana ranch and later in Lewistown, Suzie (Hedlun) Flentie (ElEd '80) gravitated towards anything related to science and history. She loved horses, the outdoors and stories about Buffalo Bill, and was captivated by the NASA space program.

When Flentie came to Montana State University in 1976, she envisioned becoming a science teacher, but a high school advisor told her she wouldn't be hired unless she could coach basketball or football.

Instead of science, Flentie chose elementary education, earning her bachelor's degree and library science minor in 1980. She landed her first job teaching kindergarten in Lewistown, her hometown, and later taught third and sixth grades. After completing her master's degree in 1990, Flentie became involved in several federally funded science and technology education programs, and when a science teaching job opened in 1998, she jumped at the opportunity.

"I have always loved science," said Flentie. "Ironically, my favorite class as I was going through school is the class I am now teaching: eighth grade science at Lewistown Junior High School."

Through 31 years of teaching, Flentie has shared her passion for science and technology with students and fellow teachers. In her early years, she incorporated computers into the classroom and developed an outdoor learning environment at a nearby creek.

She has helped shape Montana curricula, has presented to fellow teachers nationally and internationally, and is known statewide for her leadership roles in the Montana Council for Computers and Technology in Education and other professional associations.

Flentie recently completed a prestigious National Science Foundation Research Experience for Teachers (RET) at MSU, a program that has given real-world research experience to many Montana science teachers.

Flentie said it is exciting to see young girls planning careers in science, and cited a 2003 book, "Pulp Physics," in which author Richard Berenzden postulates that the first people to set foot on Mars are likely sitting in our classrooms right now.

"Wherever they are, I hope they're getting the inspiration and confidence they need," she said.

At MSU, Flentie was one of the Bobcat Track and Field team's first female distance runners following the passage of Title IX in 1972.

"It was an honor for me to be involved with the beginning stages of women's cross country and track at MSU," said Flentie. "I was proud to be a Bobcat athlete. My teammates were amazing women, and I'm still friends with many of them."

Flentie said her MSU coach, Neil Elieson, greatly influenced her own decision to become a cross country and track coach.

Flentie said she chose MSU partly because her older sisters did, but said, "I honestly believed it was the best college in Montana and I never considered going out of state." MSU has become a family tradition: both Flentie's children and all of her sisters' children have become Bobcats. At one time, eight cousins were enrolled simultaneously.

In 2006, Flentie came back to MSU for the RET program. She spent several summers researching magnetic nanostructures with physics professor Yves Idzerda and then worked with MSU's Center for Bio-Inspired Nanomaterials and Montana NSF EPSCoR to develop classroom resources for teachers.

"Having this opportunity to work in the lab and be mentored by brilliant physics professors, post-docs and doctoral students has been a very fulfilling experience for me as an educator," said Flentie. "My students have also benefitted because they can see how class projects relate to real-world research and applications of science."

"It was nice working with someone who had a real interest in science, as well as the maturity of someone who's been teaching a long time," said Idzerda. He added that the purpose of the RET program is to inspire and reinvigorate teachers while getting them closer to the application of science, but that Flentie took it a step further in considering how the research could be shared with Montana teachers.

"Suzie is such a great ambassador for STEM education, which is an important part of our mission in Montana," said Martha Peters, EPSCoR program director. "She brings a wealth of experience to the projects we've worked on, and her excitement for science and teaching is contagious. There is never a shortage of ideas or energy with Suzie."

Article from EPSCoR Facebook Page 6/16/2011.