Olson credits a visit to rural Thailand and Hong Kong in college as inspiration for him to go into teaching.
"When I want to Asia, I was a senior economics major at St. Olaf, and my goal was to go into business," Olson said. "While I was there I spent some time in a couple orphanages. When I came back, those images of those children just stuck with me."
"In fact, one photo of one of those orphans, named Vincent, still hangs in our home as a constant reminder to me," Olson continued. "But it really sort of flipped what I wanted to do with my life. And I ultimately realized that working with children through teaching was the way God has chosen me to impact the world."
My wife and I have three beautiful children that were orphans in Asia that we have adopted. That's an everyday wonderful connection to me.Derek Olson
Students credit Olson with offering hands-on, high-energy learning. Kids in his class have raised pheasants, raised money for the family of fallen St. Paul Police officer Jerry Vick, learned hieroglyphics and recorded podcasts.
Olson was named to replace Carleen Gulstad, who resigned earlier this summer for personal reasons. He will succeed 2007 teacher of the year Michael Smart.
Olson will be in the classroom next year, as well as represent Minnesota educators, travel and attend professional development conferences and events.
His experience in Asia didn't just shape his professional career, either. Olson and his wife, Kris, adopted three children from Southeast Asian orphanages. They are Kaija, 11, Ben, 9, and Anna who is 5 right now, but she will turn 6 on Thursday.
Olson was named teacher of the year at a reception at the Education Minnesota offices in St. Paul.