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Pay It Forward: Valley teacher helping schools around the world

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PHOENIX (CBS5) -

An engineering teacher at Desert Vista High School is changing minds and the quality of life not only in the Valley, but around the world.

What Dan Zavaleta teaches is hard to define. It says engineering next to his name in the yearbook. A quick glance at all the gadgets and trinkets around his classroom would tell you that the same thing but the influence of "Mr. Z," as his students call him, goes well beyond the confines of the school building.

"Dan is an amazing teacher... puts in probably 15 or 16 hours a day during the school year and very often Saturday mornings find him right back here at the school," Zavaleta's friend, Rose Rumney said.

Tyler Adamson, the Robotics Team Captain, was front and center as Zavaleta guided his students to a victory in the national underwater robotics competition.

The team had to build functioning cameras, microphones and lighting for an underwater mission.

Zavaleta often pays for the spare parts himself but their efforts literally paid off when the Desert Vista team ended up beating everyone including the squad from ASU.

And during the summers, Zavaleta and his partners travel all over the globe. They have outfitted third world schools in Fiji with solar powered lighting and helped purify water at similar schools in Mexico.

His students helped design many of those same projects that are now making a difference around the world.

"You got to get them enthused," Zavaleta said. "Once they're enthused, it doesn't matter what - they are going to go find out what they need to find out, whatever interests them. You just got to get them started and once they're started, they're good to go."

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