Jason Raddatz ’91 is the director of the Whitehouse Nature Center. Raddatz prior to coming to Albion had career stepping stones as a nurse, a casino dealer, a professional musician and a fund accountant before taking the path to become a teacher.
“When I graduated from [Albion], I graduated with an international finance degree and I had absolutely no intention of becoming involved in either education or in environmentalism because those were my dad’s things, ” said Raddatz.
After 9/11, Raddatz found himself unemployed after working with the same company for five years in marketing. Trying to find what was next for himself, Raddatz decided to train for a marathon.
“About mile 13 is when I decided that I was going to become a teacher,” said Raddatz. “I don’t know if it was the runners high but after that I put those plans into motion.”
Raddatz entered an accelerated teachers program and got his teaching degree from Saginaw Valley State University.
“Found out that finance wasn’t my thing,” said Raddatz. “I liked numbers. I like looking at patterns and I can identify patterns pretty well. But it took three or four tries to find out that I was destined to be my dad.”
Raddatz had a successful career as a teacher, having received Teacher of The Year from Ron Watson Middle School and becoming a Quarter Finalist for Arizona Teacher of the Year in only his second year of teaching in Yuma, Ariz.
In 2013, Raddatz became the STEM coordinator for Albion Public Schools before the district was annexed into Marshall Public schools. Raddatz developed a program that year called STEM Geekend, which allowed students to participate in STEM related activities.
In the 2013-14 school year, Raddatz was named the Teacher’s Teacher of The Year. Later, during the 2017-18 school year, Raddatz was named Teacher of the Year for Marshall Public Schools.
“I really enjoyed what I was doing at Opportunity High School,” said Raddatz. “I think when I sat down and talked it over with my wife, it was an opportunity to work at Albion. When you get to work at your alma mater, it’s kind of a special thing.”
As he transitioned into being the Albion College Whitehouse Nature Center Director, Raddatz stayed true to his roots as a science teacher by hosting and running programs throughout the summer to teach elementary and middle school students coding.
Raddatz, with the push of Michigan College Alliance (MCA) this past summer, partnered with Kalamazoo Public Schools this summer to teach a program about coding for the first half and about scientific inquiry and data analysis for the second half. Raddatz was able to pilot the program at Gordon Elementary, then bring it back to Harrington Elementary in Albion, and the Nora Jacksons Difference at the YMCA in Battle Creek, and then test it through eighth graders at Kalamazoo Public Schools.
Over the summer Raddatz had four to five student assistants that were able to partake in these summer programs and interact with the students.
“I thought that highlighting spheros and the drones would be the highlight, but it wasn’t,” said Raddatz. “It was the data analysis and a lot of that has to do with the interaction between college students because that’s when they took over.”
In the upcoming year, the program will be expanding from one week to four weeks with the push of the MCA.
During the school year Raddatz has 93 students on the payroll at the nature center and works on making the Whitehouse Nature Center a student-led program.
“I also know that students come to Albion for their academics first,” said Raddatz. “So if I can get your full attention, full effort for two hours a day, two hours a week, two hours a month or two hours a semester I am totally happy with that.”
One of the perks of the flexibility Raddatz has with his workers is that it allows athletes to be able to work around their busy schedules to still be able to work, like Saginaw sophomore Rodney Mitchell.
“I enjoy working with the farmbot, but my biggest fear was not having enough time for the farm bot,” said Mitchell. “I am also a pre-med student, so my schedule is crazy. With Jason kinda allowing me to work on this when I get free time or whenever I can makes me want to work on it even more. It gives me that extra push. Like he is trusting me to be responsible with my time and get things done at my own pace. He’s not rushing me. He’s not giving me deadlines.”
During the school year, Raddatz hosts a series of pop-up camps on Saturdays. The pop-up campus includes a sustainability activity, an art activity, a STEM activity and something the team “cooks up.”
“This came about two years ago because I was looking at what I could do during the academic year to get kids involved from the community over into the nature center,” said Raddatz. “I was thinking along the lines, like my wife and I had a conversation that she said, ‘You should do a daycare on Saturdays so parents can go Christmas shopping.’”
With the approval of the chamber of commerce, Raddatz started a series of pop-up camps with his first one with ten kids. Right before COVID-19 hit, Raddatz was having up to 30 kids at these pop-up camps.
The next pop-up camp will be Dec. 11.
“I looked at the nature center as this facility that was underutilized and whether you look at it from either a student aspect or an academic aspect or a community aspect,” said Raddatz. “I thought that I could turn that around just a little bit.”