STEM Staff Interview Report: Robert Blersch

Robert Blersch was a very influential leader for STEM at OHS. He retired from the school at the end of last year, and now he is doing work for Project Lead The Way, the organization that establishes the engineering and biomedical curriculum that we offer at OHS. This year, his position has been filled by Sharon Tomski (Read a similar interview report about her here). Here is a report of an interview with him that details aspects of his teaching career and his mindset.

What are some of your favorite memories of working at OHS?

Some of Mr. Blersch’s favorite things were when he would try new and different projects out in the classes that he taught, especially if it meant that he was able to incorporate current events  into them. One example of this is that when a crane failed when constructing Big Blue, the stadium, Principles of Engineering happened to be learning about simple machines. Mr. Blersch made a model of a building and tasked students with building a balsa wood crane to test with. He also enjoyed experiments that students would do in Engineering Design and Development, which would allow him to learn new things along with his higher level students. One example that he shared of this was experimenting with super bright LEDs and light covers. He also enjoyed leading the robotics team for 20 years, and has many crazy stories from it, and is proud of establishing that program within the school, as well as maintaining it when administration was attempting to get rid of the team and shop.

What would you like to be remembered for at OHS and in the community?

Mr. Blersch is very proud of bringing Project Lead The Way curriculum to OHS, as he had to argue for it quite a bit while the administration was focusing on implementing AP and IB curriculum options. He is also proud for starting the robotics programs in the district, because he knows that he has changed students’ lives with that, and created a great opportunity for students to expand their STEM knowledge.

What were your first impressions when you began teaching?

Mr. Blersch began teaching through a partnership when he was in college, and when he started in Janesville, he got to work with other great people which made that experience very positive that kept him wanting to teach. He still has some friends from his first three years of teaching when he was at Janesville. Mr. Blersch also taught drivers’ ed and coached football and wrestling back then, and enjoyed his involvement with those activities. Another thing he did at the time was bartend, and his students would find it very funny to come in and joke around with him at his other job.

What was the biggest challenge that you faced when expanding the STEM options in our community?

Some people who didn’t understand the importance of STEM as it was becoming a larger program seemed to consider it as a threat. People had been protective of their own curriculum and didn’t always understand what he was trying to do with adding options. Administrators also struggled to see the benefit that more STEM courses would provide to most students. They also resisted because of it not lining up with the direction they were starting to push for upper level students, which was the IB program.

What did you do prior to teaching at OHS? Why did you leave?

Mr. Blersch had been teaching in southwestern Michigan, but he had a deal with his wife that once their youngest child was three, they would move back to Wisconsin, near Janesville to be by her family. This caused Mr. Blersch to work for Zenith Data Systems before teaching at OHS, which was relatively short as he had been looking for other jobs, but he did enjoy his time there, where he worked on electronics. He had known another staff member at OHS who convinced him to come here rather than Mukwonago, which had been his leading alternative.

If you could change something about how you have lived life so far, would you? What would it be?

Mr. Blersch would not have been a teacher for as long as he has. He would’ve rather gone and worked in the industry in order to make more money. He then likely would’ve wound up teaching after being an engineer for many years.

What is a piece of advice that you would like to give to the students at OHS?

Put your phone down. Go outside and get some fresh air. If you aren’t challenging yourself in high school and making the most of the opportunities available here, then college may not be the best fit. There is nothing wrong with failing when you are placing challenges in your path, and students shouldn’t be afraid of failing, but the easiest route through high school is not preparing them for higher educations.

Who have been your role models in life?

Mr. Blersch has tried to take away a little bit of something positive from everyone he meets. He believed that anyone, students, coworkers, community members, and any other person he interacts with could have something worth wanting to imitate and implement into his life.

What are some of your favorite sayings?

“Stupid hurts.” “We all have a bowl of dumbass for breakfast once in a while.” “Grandma was slow, but she was old.” “No blood on the floor.” He knows that he has plenty more of these catch phrases, but these were just a few that came to his mind at that moment. His goal with his sayings and teaching was usually to either make people think, or to make people chuckle, but he never meant to be strictly mean to students solely for that sake. His coursework has always been more difficult classes, where students tended to be stressed, so he would use these callbacks to create a slight break from that demanding content.

What was your favorite class to teach?

Mr. Blersch’s favorite class has been Electronic Principles, AKA Electronics 2. He thinks that he may have been the only high school teacher in Wisconsin covering those topics as it was his own curriculum. The students found the course to be quite high level and difficult, but had told him that it had been a good course for preparing them for college. He taught this class twelve years ago or so, but it had been replaced by Digital Electronics when he got the school to jump onboard with Project Lead The Way.

Author’s Note: This interview was at the end of last year while Mr. Blersch was still at OHS. Robert Blersch was a very significant person for bringing up the engineering program that is now at OHS, between courses and the robotics program. His courses were tough, his teaching methods were more old school than most teachers at OHS in recent years, and some students were not very fond of him as a result. However, he has been an influential leader in my life, and I believe that he deserves more recognition than he got while he was at OHS.