A Portage Life in the Spotlight: Eric Schmiedl

A Portage Life in the Spotlight: Eric Schmiedl

From aspiring zookeeper to dedicated middle school teacher, Eric Schmiedl’s career path took him on an unexpected journey. For the past eight years, he’s been teaching Project Lead the Way (PLTW) courses at Willowcreek Middle School, but before that, he dreamt of working with animals. 

Through his passion for animals, Schmiedl earned his bachelor's in zoology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. However, he had a difficult time finding the type of job he’d hoped for after graduating.

“I couldn't seem to get into any zoos as a zookeeper after college because I would have needed to do unpaid internships,” Schmiedl said. “With out-of-state tuition, I had to have summer jobs, so I couldn't do those internships, which would have made it easier to get a job as a zookeeper.”

Without the ability to work an unpaid internship while completing his undergraduate studies, Schmiedl's job options were limited. This setback became a blessing in disguise, though, as it allowed him to discover a new passion growing within.

“I ended up getting into the education department at Brookfield Zoo, then later at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. I started to realize that I actually liked teaching and wanted to have my own classroom, so I went back to school and got my master's in education,” said Schmiedl.

Fueled by his newfound passion, Schmiedl pursued his master's in secondary education at Saint Xavier University in Chicago. He then taught at a school for about 3 1/2 years before taking a few years off to be a stay-at-home dad. As his kids got a bit older, he felt drawn to the classroom again.

“I started looking around and saw that Willowcreek had an opening in PLTW, and at the time, I had no idea what it was,” said Schmiedl. “I just knew it was in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) field which fit with my strengths.”

During the interview and hiring process, Schmiedl continued to learn more about PLTW. He could tell that this job would be a perfect fit for him.

“PLTW is pre-engineering in the STEM field. It's like life skills, meaning time management, problem solving, critical thinking, and working with others in collaborative groups, but it’s taught using engineering through coding, computer stuff, building things, and hands-on projects. They’re things kids will need throughout the rest of their lives in school and in their career,” Schmiedl said.

Schmiedl enjoys cultivating relationships with his students and coworkers. He finds fulfillment in seeing a change in students’ confidence and abilities throughout his class. Beyond that, he finds joy in the connections he’s created with his colleagues.

“I really like getting to see the students go from saying, ‘I don't get this; I don't understand it,’ to seeing it click with them when they realize, ‘I can do this!’ Seeing that on their faces and seeing the creativity of the projects that they come up with is amazing,” said Schmiedl. “I also love the people I work with, and that makes teaching fun, too. I work closely with my counterpart in PLTW, and we get along really well.”

Outside of work, Schmiedl spends most of his time with his wife and children. He loves playing basketball, baseball, and softball with his kids in their front yard. He also enjoys scuba diving with his wife while on vacation getaways.

“I'm glad that my wandering career path has brought me to Willowcreek. I've been here longer than any other job that I've had thus far, and I'm really happy with that,” Schmiedl said. “My students keep me going with how much they get into their projects and the positive experiences that I hear from them later on when they come back and visit. It continues rejuvenating me year after year, and I know it's all worthwhile. As long as it's in my control, I'm going to continue to teach PLTW all the way to retirement.”