Honeywell Sends Southeast Grad on 'Out of this World' Experience

College of Education


Southeast Missouri State University graduate Kaci Heins recently received an opportunity most other elementary school teachers never get. During the spring of 2010, she spent five days attending Space Camp for Educators at the United States Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala.

“The program lasted five days, and we were immersed in space science education from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. The packed days included experiments and hands-on activities to use with our students in the classroom, space simulators, rescue simulations and guest speakers such as Homer Hickam Jr., Ed Buckbee and astronaut Robert ‘Hoot’ Gibson,” she says.

“One of the simulators allowed us to feel what it was like to walk and jump on the moon. I give those astronauts more credit now because it was more difficult than you would think. I was also able to perform a ‘space walk’ during one of our shuttle simulations. My partner Shelly and I were in chairs that simulated weightlessness as we constructed a piece of a satellite in ‘space’,” she says.

Kaci was able to attend the camp through an all-expenses paid scholarship she earned through Honeywell. After a rigorous application and selection process, Kaci made the cut from among 1,500 applicants; only 220 teachers from 47 states and 21 countries were selected.

She says she is eager to integrate what she learned at Space Camp into all areas of her curriculum.

“My experience at the camp changed my life, the way I view space science and the way I will be teaching in the future,” she says.

Kaci graduated from Southeast in 2004 with a teaching degree and is now a fifth grade teacher at Peak Charter School in Flagstaff, Ariz.

She says her secret to success is simple.

“Hard work. Nothing worth doing ever comes easy, and I love that,” she says.

Hard work and recognition are nothing new to Kaci. She was named Heartland Teacher of the Year by KFVS 12 and Missouri State Teachers Association Beginning Teacher of the Year in 2007 while teaching in Advance, Mo. The past two years she has been nominated for the Arizona Science Teachers Association Beginning Teacher of the Year award.

While at Southeast, Kaci was a member of the track and cross country team. She says some of her favorite memories of Southeast include practicing and traveling with the team as well as winning team Ohio Valley Conference championships.

“It was the best time of my life. We were just like a big family,” says Kaci. “I loved going to class, learning new things, meeting new people and the campus as a whole.  It was just an amazing place to go to school.”

Kaci also met her husband, former Southeast distance running coach Eric Heins, while at Southeast.

She says Southeast was integral in preparing her for her career.

“Southeast has an amazing education department, and I feel they did a great job of preparing me for the workplace. The hardest part was the portfolio, but it has also taught me the most. I still have it and used it for my job interview this past spring.  Even though we complained so much about it while in school, it has been the most valuable educational tool I have encountered.  I also loved the block program. Adding more and more teaching time and responsibility each semester was a great way to gradually get us ready for our own classrooms. It also reaffirmed that teaching is what I wanted to do with my life,” she says.

Kaci acknowledges a few professors who especially influenced her during her time at Southeast.

“There were three professors who changed my life at Southeast,” she says. “I had Dr. Gifford for my block II, and she showed me so many great strategies to use when teaching kids. I worked really hard and learned a lot in her class. She also believed in me and what I could do.

“Then there is the professor who changed my life forever, Dr. Jean Benton,” she continues. “I worked with Dr. Benton as I prepared to do part of my student teaching abroad in Melbourne, Australia. She showed me how to see the world of education from many different and eye-opening angles. I learned so much about other educational systems, and I presented what I learned to her and Dr. Cwick when I returned from the “land down under.”  They were so impressed that we submitted a proposal to present what I had learned at the World Council for Curriculum and Instruction Conference in 2005, and I was selected to present. Because Dr. Benton and Dr. Cwick saw something special in me as a teacher, I have had amazing experiences and met amazing people. These experiences have made me a better person and a better teacher. I will never forget that, nor will I ever forget the people who got me where I am today, and I thank them with my whole heart.”

Kaci offered the following advice to current and future Southeast students.

“Make the most of every minute you have at Southeast. It is such a small window of fun, opportunity and education before you enter the real world. Try to study abroad to see things from other perspectives and meet new people. Support Southeast athletics; you would want someone cheering if you were out there. Always ask for help if you need it. The professors were always willing to make time to help. Just put yourself out there and be able to look back and not have any regrets. I wouldn’t change a thing about my time at Southeast. I wish I could do it over the same way because it was so much fun.”

Kaci says, as a teacher, she has a commitment to be a lifelong learner and she is enjoying every part of that.  She volunteers at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Ariz., to help educate her community about space science. She is also working on a portfolio and application to get into Advanced Space Academy in 2011. 

“They only take about 20 teachers instead of 200, so it’s much more difficult to get into, but well worth it,” she says.

Kaci still enjoys running in her spare time. She lives with her husband and son, Chase, in Flagstaff, Ariz.