For over a decade, Dr. Rhonda Bonnstetter has been a dynamic voice in the education field, working to prepare future teachers and to advocate for new programs to meet needs for K-12 schools across Minnesota.

As a professor at Southwest Minnesota State University and leader on a variety of state education boards, she’s known for her innovative thinking, collaborations with multiple organizations and elevating the field of teaching. Among her most recent accomplishments was her visioning to create and gain legislative approval for a para-to-teacher program as a non-traditional pathway for mid-career individuals to join the profession.

MREA recognized Dr. Bonnstetter with the 2018 Distinguished Service Award for her contributions to the field of education from paraprofessional to college professor.

“I’m grateful for Rhonda and her commitment to the teaching profession,” said Wendy Schoolmeester, a SMSU professor before presenting her the award. “She is truly making a difference in every student she works with and even us, her colleagues.”

For three decades, she has been a role model in the field, initially beginning her education career as a paraprofessional at Murray County Central High School. With encouragement of two teachers, Dr. Bonnstetter decided to attend college to become a teacher.

“As a farmer’s wife and mother, Dr. Bonnstetter’s education career started in the simplest of ways and has had such a significant impact in the education industry,” MREA Executive Director Fred Nolan said. “Her career shows what’s possible and serves as a role model for others.”

Dr. Bonnstetter taught high school math at Murray County Central for nine years while going on to earn her Masters in Math Education and doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction. She then joined Southwest State University faculty in the School of Education and elevated the department as chair.

In addition to being chair of the Education Department of SMSU, Dr. Bonnstetter has served in a variety of leadership roles for MREA, the Minnesota Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the Minnesota Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, Minnesota Board of Teaching and Minnesota Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board.

She has not lost her love for teaching math. While taking a recent sabbatical to write a new textbook, she also taught as a substitute teacher in Worthington for a parental leave and has spent the last two summers teaching at Marshall Public Schools.

“Dr. Bonnstetter has done it all—and keeps doing it all,” Nolan said. “Her passion and commitment to education is extraordinary. She’s like the Energizer Bunny. She just keeps going and going.”

View video of the award ceremony, originally live streamed by student crew at Flyer Media Production at Little Falls Public Schools.  (She is presented with the award around 1:45).