Western Colorado Math & Science Center

The John McConnell story
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Who Is John McConnell?

“A Celebration of Commitment to Math, to Science and to Young Minds”

After 30 years of working as a physicist at the Ames and Los Alamos National Laboratories, John retired to Grand Junction in 1990. Rather than retire in the literal sense, he embarked on a new life challenge as an educator and mentor of Western Colorado K - 12 students of math and science.

Taking the initiative to bring more math and science into local schools, he developed sophisticated hands-on experiments and interactive presentations, which he carted around in the trunk of his car and presented to students and teachers. As the popularity of his program flourished, he outgrew his mobile laboratory and established the Western Colorado Math and Science Center (renamed the John McConnell Math & Science Center of Western Colorado in April 2011). This unique facility is filled with exhibits and hands-on displays, which annually enrich the science and math education of thousands of Colorado students and teachers. John has never personally accepted payment for his efforts.

John has mentored many students, including Ryan Patterson who is now a Senior Scientist with Lockheed Martin in the Denver area and Derek Vigil, who is now a graduate student in physics at Stanford University. Ryan was one of the most sought after high school students in 2002 and was the winner of national awards for the invention of a glove that translates American Sign Language into written words on a digital display. 

An alumnus of Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas, John began his career as a physicist at the Ames Laboratory at Iowa State University where he worked from 1960-1974. He spent the next 16 years at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico working on linear accelerator projects of national significance.

John has been honored at the local, state and national level for his outstanding public service, teaching and mentoring future engineers and scientists. He has received numerous awards in the last decade including the Corporation for Public Service Award (one of only seven in the nation), the Governor’s Colorado Cares Volunteer Service Award for education, the United States Department of Education John Stanford Education Heroes Award (one of ten in the nation), and the Points of Light Award.  John's passion for "creating enthusiasm for math and science in kids of all ages" has been documented in Barbara Metzler's book, "Passionaries: Turning Compassion into Action."

The Board of Regents of the University of Colorado awarded the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa, to John McConnell in May 2004 in recognition of his exceptional commitment to K - 12 math and science education in Colorado.