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Detroit Lakes teacher's enthusiasm 'adds up' to special honor

When Detroit Lakes High School mathematics teacher Lisa Conzemius received an e-mail this spring, informing her that she was to be the recipient of an award from a college in Terre Haute, Ind. -- which would involve a free trip to Indiana to receive it -- she was a little taken aback.

Conzemius had been nominated for the Samuel Hulbert Outstanding Teacher Award from the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, by one of her former students, Tim Hachfeld (a 2003 DLHS graduate) -- but she had "not a clue" that he had done so.

"Once I was nominated, they (Rose-Hulman) contacted a couple of other teachers in the math department -- Shad Nunn and Mike Labine -- and interviewed them, so they must have known I was being considered," Conzemius said. But they didn't breathe a word until she received that e-mail.

"I was completely shocked," she said. "I asked them, 'You're really going to fly me to Terre Haute, Indiana?'

"I hadn't talked to (Hachfeld) in a year and a half," she added, "though he is one of those students who does come back (to DLHS) and check in whenever he comes home."

As it turned out, a free plane trip was part of the award -- although this time, she had to leave her family -- husband Brooks Larson and children Naomi, 8, Emily, 6, and Abby, 3 -- at home.

"The (free) trip was just for me," Conzemius explained.

When she arrived at Rose-Hulman on May 5, Conzemius was treated to a luncheon with her fellow award recipients and the students who had nominated them. Then, Hachfeld gave her a personalized tour of the campus.

Rose-Hulman is a private engineering, mathematics and science college that has been ranked by U.S. News & World Report magazine as the best college of its kind in the nation for eight consecutive years.

"It's a beautiful campus," Conzemius said.

Once Hachfeld had shown her around, Conzemius had to go back to her room and get ready for the school's Honors and Awards Ceremony and Banquet that evening.

Though there were a variety of student and faculty awards presented that evening, Conzemius was one of just three chosen to receive the Hulbert Award. Her fellow recipients included Nancy Stansberry of Fort Wayne Community Schools in Fort Wayne, Ind., and Mark Wright of South Vermillion High School in Clinton, Ind.

"I was very honored and excited," she said, adding that the award was especially meaningful to her because it came from one of her former students.

In the award presentation, Conzemius was described as: "A dedicated, passionate and spirited educator, whose impact on her students lasts beyond the time she has them in class. Whether it's teaching integrated algebra or calculus, she is admired for her ability to make mathematics fun as well as informative."

A short listing of her academic credentials includes the following: Conzemius has trained educators nationwide on how to teach mathematics using the Core Plus math curriculum. She has been a member of the Minnesota Council of Teachers of Mathematics and a presenter at its annual conference. She is on the Minnesota Math Standards Committee, helping to rewrite the high school math standards for the state.

A native of Breckenridge, Minn., Conzemius received her teaching degree from Concordia College in Moorhead, where she graduated with a major in mathematics, computer science and education in 1989. She spent her first two years of teaching in Pine Island, Minn., followed by a three-year stint in Huron, S.D.

Conzemius -- who uses her maiden name in her profession, though she goes by her married name, Larson, outside of school -- has been a teacher for a total of 18 years. Thirteen of those years have been spent in Detroit Lakes, where her children now attend school as well.

"I wanted to be closer to my family (in Breckenridge)," Conzemius said of her reasons for moving back from South Dakota to Minnesota.

Though she has always loved math, Conzemius said it was her ninth grade algebra teacher, Ron Thimjon, who inspired her to make a career out of teaching it to others.

"He motivated me, got me excited, and challenged me," Conzemius said, adding with a touch of pride that she had held Thimjon's extra credit course record for 12 years.

Now, Conzemius is passing on that passion for math to her students.

"I've been teaching math almost my whole life," she said. "I absolutely love it."

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454