Dennis Selness

Dennis Selness receives the 2000 Joe Oakey Master PBL Practitioner Award
from Autodesk Foundation President Emeritus Joe Oakey

Project-Based Learning>Joe Oakey> Dennis Selness

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Please send remembrances of Dennis Selness to See the profile of Dennis from the Archive website of the Autodesk Foundation.

From Judy Morgan, Bob Pearlman, & Elizabeth Share:

With great sadness, we have learned that our good friend, fellow educator and colleague, Dennis Selness is on his journey away from his body, this earth, and these friends.

We met Dennis in 1992 when the Autodesk Foundation held its first Conference on Project-Based Learning Conference. Thanks to the inspiration of the first director of the Autodesk Foundation, Joe Oakey, thirty extraordnary educators joined us in San Rafael to share their creative, rigorous, experiential curriculum for young people in grades K-12. Each had designed a way of engaging young students in projects that integrated academics, hands-on work and relevance.

Dennis, as the Chairman of the Agricultural Science Department at Linn Mar High School in Marin, Iowa, knocked our socks off with a science curriculum that engaged students in the world of aquaculture and toxicology. In addition to learning how to measure the amount of nicotine in wild fish, they raised toxic-free fish for Chicago restaurants. The kids learned the value of a clean water system, the dangers of everyday pollutants, and the joy of producing healthy food.

Dennis D. Selness spent 21 years sharing his love of science with his students. The kids who spent time with Dennis learned to be entrepreneurial, to think about the real world applications of the curriculum before them, and best of all, were part of a community fo learners whose passion was palpable.

In addition to his work in the United States, Dennis visited Russia, both with and without his students, each time sharing his inspired curriculum and teaching strategies with teachers there. While there, his students learned about Russian agricultural techniques, made friends and learned first-hand the value of being part of a global community.

Dennis presented at every one of our nine Project-Based Learning Conferences and was the well deserved honoree of the Dr. Joe Oakey Master Practioner PBL Award in 2000. He was a beloved colleague and friend.

We have many wonderful memories of Dennis. We are forever grateful to him for his dedication to teaching, his sweet smile and friendly manner, his brilliant grasp of what motivates young people, and his willingness to always share with others anything he could. We will miss him.

With warmest memories,

Judy Morgan
Bob Pearlman
Elizabeth Share

From Joe Oakey:

There are Teachers, Good Teachers, and Very Good Teachers. Dennis fits into the category of Very Good teacher plus. Dennis was a teacher, not only of his formal students, but of everyone who came in contact with him. He loved life and his profession. Anyone meeting with him could detect immediately his zest for life, his spontaneous and unending enthusiasm for the search for knowledge and wisdom, and his devotion to the human spirit. His passing will be a loss to humanity. I, Joe Oakey, considered Dennis a good friend, and join in with the other participants in the Autodesk Project-Based Learning experience in mourning the loss of this spirited member of our group. If there is a heaven, it will be a better place upon his arrival, but it will not balance our loss. Thank you Dennis.

Joe Oakey

From Tom Keck:

Many times there were two orphans at the PBL conferences, Dennis and Tom .We spent much time together just hanging out telling stories and me listening to OLE and LENA jokes.

On one occasion there were two women from Boston in need of escorts. Dennis and I rose cheerfully to the challenge. They decided to take our picture to show their husbands the two quality men they picked up. Dennis was our guide to the city. He took us to Chinatown and into a dark alley where we came to a very shabby building. Inside was a very old woman. Dennis wanted to take her picture but she made him buy some of her wares, which were adult fortune cookies. Who but Dennis knew of this location? By this time our "doggies" were getting tired, so we picked up some possum oil to rub on our feet, and with size 15eeee that's a lot of area.

There were so many stories about his Russia trips. Someone always wanting to get an intro letter, a sponsor who put his jacket down and a gun fell out, someone always trying to find him a wife. But the all time favorite was a visit to a somewhat remote village in the Ukraine. It was the time of the village Olympics and Iowa won the arm wrestling championship. The prize was a sheep which Dennis convinced them to cook for a banquet.

Being the guest of honor he was front and center. Dennis was served up the head on a platter and requested to try the jowl. Dennis said the sheep "must have been eating sand". The babushka lady cut a slice and threw it out the window. Dennis said "the GODS must be really hungry". Things got worse for him next as he was requested to take a rib bone, and scrape inside the skull which he did. Only instead of eating it, he carefully rubbed it on his beard. There was a problem and one of his students called him on it, yelling out "you didn't eat that stuff". The babushka lady then said something, which was translated as "she would not eat that stuff either".

Where is all of this going? This a feeble attempt to convey that Dennis is not only a gifted teacher, but a person who loves life, the ideal role model for his students, and one who brings JOY to not only his students, but to the Autodesk Foundation family.

We LOVE you and pray that you will beat this.

Your pal,

t. keck

From Maureen and Bill Bigelow:

We love Denny so much and had no idea that things had swung to worse. We had to change our e-mail address from the Juno one to this because of bad stuff coming to our site. We thought we had forwarded that to everyone, but must have missed you! The news is so glum. We all have had such hope. He is such a trooper.

Please read these thoughts to him: We wish we were there holding his hand, but our love and friendship for him IS right there. We met each other at Autodesk Conferences in San Francisco California some 15 years ago. The original group had 10 teachers doing speeches and demos on their method of Project Based Learning. Denny did aquaculture - Bill solar cars. That original group was the most fun for two or more years. Watching each other speak, gathering for breakfast and coaching for the next day, sharing ideas and sharing ideas...just a wonderful time.

One year we met at Joe Oakey's house before the conference. Joe was The Boss of this group, as chair of the educational foundation for Autodesk. This conference was his idea. He found all the teachers around the United States and made arrangements for them to come and share their ideas about using computer software and teaching Project Based Learning...the project moves the learning. His home was then on the Pacific in a lagoon area. We had a lovely afternoon walking the beach and finding loads of sand dollars. We teased Joe all the time.

Denny often met us at the airport. We began meeting a day before the conference. We went to places like Mendocino, where Murder She Wrote was filmed and where we all shared a large room in a very 70's B&B, our son, Tobey, included. In the morning we walked down among the breaker cliffs picking up driftwood, and then figuring out how to get it home in our small suitcases! We drove to San Fran along the ocean and among the Redwoods.

Bill wants him to recall dancing with a tortilla on his head one year at a Mexican restaurant in San Francisco. They were trying to avoid sitting with Kathy!!!, the talking teacher!!! "Spoons on noses" was another great learning experience while in this group.

Another year, he helped me get ready to go to Scandinavia. He wrote me letters on the e-mail as if speaking Norwegian. It was so fun and I had the greatest trip taking his ideas and using them. He was Olie, Bill, Sven, and I was Lena. I want him to know that he'll be my Olie forever, and Lena loves him- Sven, too.

We spent such fun times in San Francisco. I would talk to him about them, if I were there. The one year we walked all over with the very young new teacher in the rain. We sloshed along. We slopped along. We swam uphill almost! Dim Sum and fortune cookies with frisky "dirty" fortunes...that was that year.

Another year, Bill recalls with a paling pocketbook, was when my Cousin David took us to the Pakistani restaurant and we all sat on the floor and had loads of different types of unusual food and wines. I loved it, but Bill wasn't sure about eating very thick brown soup that smelled like engine waste! We tried to get Bill some CULCHA!

Judy Morgan was the bundle of excitement that held these groups together between the conference speaking times. She sends her love to Dennis too. They both come from Iowa and had reunions now and then. She was always walking us or limoing us or treating the teachers to some really nice times. She made us feel so special about being teachers. That made a difference when you returned from the trip.

I want to send a New England bouquet - would that be okay? We are still finishing a house that Bill and I are building for a teacher friend --she should be in by Thanksgiving. We can't leave until the furnace is in and the walls and ceilings are done. Outside looks great, but the inside slows one down and takes lots longer.

We can't leave here until December and Bill's mom has problems we need to attend in Florida.

We have so enjoyed every time with Olie "Denny" and all of his great buddies in Iowa. Even with a few for 2 hours in a freezer waiting out a tornado! Or carving pumpkins around a garage for great fun. We have bought more junk, ah, ah, wonderful stuff, while together too. Think about the good things, Dennis. For you are one of them. All our love and hugs...Dear Friend Forever

We talked to Darlene and to his good buddy Bill. We danced at Bill's birthday in the pouring rain last May....damn damn double damn.... Joe's words are wonderful. So glad you got a hold of all the guys that mean so much to him. I agree with Joe, God's getting the better deal in this one. We're left with sucky. Poor Darlene has been so dedicated to Dennis these last three years ...she is hurting bad. She is there all the time now. His folks and family and friends are all around. Love is there with him. He'll feel it, and the spirit is there, though the body is gone. Oh, my dear ..we will miss him.

Maureen Bigelow