My name is Mark Conner, and I am the founder of Catapult Engineering Academy. My journey to becoming a high school teacher is somewhat non-traditional. I discovered a passion for teaching in 12th grade, when I was given the opportunity to teach an Algebra 1 class (under the close supervision of my Calculus teacher, of course). I was completely hooked, so I did what any high school graduate wanting to become a high school teacher would do – I went to college and studied Mechanical Engineering … for 9 years. My reasoning was good, though. Math and science came fairly naturally, and I was pretty sure that an education degree left me exactly one career path. The decision to continue on in graduate school gave me the opportunity to work with great engineers and teachers (Lawrence Virgin, Earl Dowell, Rob Clark), to learn how to conduct research projects and to develop technical communication skills through journal publications and conference presentations. I had no idea when I started down that road how an aptitude for math and science, a background in engineering and a passion for teaching would converge years later.
After finishing graduate school in 1996, I went right back to high school. I spent the majority of my first 7 years teaching traditional Physics and Physical Science courses. I did venture into some curriculum development with some high school engineering courses during that time. It wasn’t until 2003, when I moved to Hoover High School that my passion, gifting and background began to converge in a way that I could not have anticipated. I was given the opportunity to develop a four-year engineering curriculum from scratch. It was literally a blank canvas. A visionary public school administrator encouraged me to create the curriculum that I felt was most appropriate, and then he ran interference for me as we started the program in 2004 and built it over the next several years. (You will notice that everyone that is part of the initial Catapult team – Tara Powell, Gabby Gilmer, DJ Strickland and Cindy Bond – has strong ties to Hoover High School. It is a fantastic school where faculty members are expected to innovate!)
In 2010 a presentation by Dr. Clayton Christensen at the National Academy of Engineering Boston Summit prompted me to develop an online version of one of our courses. That led to a four-year pilot program with students from public, private and home schools around the country and the development of a second online course. The success of that pilot program has resulted in Catapult Engineering Academy.
God has blessed me with an amazing wife, Colleen, who also loves young people. Prior to taking on her toughest job as a full-time mom when our daughter was born in 2000, she used her background in Communications and her numerous gifts in the corporate world as the Communications Director for Campus Outreach. Her experience working with college students has given her great vision for high school students. Her experience raising support in order to have a salary helped prepare her for living on a teacher’s income. We have a daughter (15) and son (almost 13), and neither is lacking in personality. All four of us are actively involved in the youth ministry at Briarwood Presbyterian Church.