TCTA member Lisa Windolph made the leap from private sector engineer to public school teacher in 2002, finding her 14 years of experience in manufacturing engineering and engineering management to be a good fit for her classroom at McNeil High School in Round Rock ISD.

I got what is the perfect job for me,” she says. “I loved being an engineer and I love teaching kids about engineering.”

Windolph is obviously good at doing what she loves. In both 2007 and 2011, she was recognized as McNeil Teacher of the Year, and this year, she received one of the most prestigious awards given to Texas teachers: the H-E-B Excellence in Education Award for Leadership. It comes with $10,000 for her and a matching grant for her school and honors public school teachers with 10 to 20 years of experience.

While she may have a dozen years under her belt now, Windolph, who earned her teaching credentials through a Region 13 alternative certification program that ran concurrently with her first year of teaching, still recalls her first impression of her new vocation.

“In that first year the learning curve was so steep for me that I thought, ‘Wow, my engineering job was so much easier than this,’” she says. “I don’t know how people coming right out of college do it. I had been a manager at one point in my engineering career, and I was using all that experience to manage my classroom.”

Windolph is the director of the McNeil Academy of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. She joined the program while it was still in its infancy. At the time, it served all students in the district, but now four other RRISD high schools have programs modeled after it.  

She says the best part of her job is working with the students in the engineering classes she teaches and “seeing them discover the cool things that engineers do.” The program is designed to get students who might not have had any exposure to engineering interested in the field, so it includes frequent field trips to area businesses such as National Instruments, Applied Materials and Samsung.

In class, Windolph’s students learn to use professional CAD (computer-aided design) software and print their creations on 3-D printers. “When they actually hold what they created in their hands and their eyes light up, it makes it all worthwhile to me,” she says.

Also rewarding has been the recognition she’s received as a result of the H-E-B award, especially because her nomination came from a former student with whom she “butted heads a lot but really bonded with his last semester.”

I was really surprised, but you just never know who you’re going to touch,” Windolph says.

Watch a video about Windolph, and learn more about the H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards.