Two Ohio Career Center instructors were awarded a total of $150,000 to go towards their programs in the 2018 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence.
Gary Bronson was recognized as one of three instructors nationwide with a first place award. Bronson is in his eighth year of teaching industrial diesel mechanics at Laurel Oaks Career Campus in Wilmington, part of Great Oaks Career Campuses. He brings nearly two decades of experience as a professional diesel technician and mechanic. Inspired by the engines and automotive classes he took in high school, Bronson went onto work as a mechanic for Western Ohio Truck, which he described as an amazing learning experience, and attended the Mercedes Benz School in Chicago. As part of his next job with Airborne Express as a mechanic, he traveled throughout North America, and also began substitute teaching at Laurel Oaks. Bronson subsequently left industry to become a full-time teacher with the aspiration to become a role model for future generations. To do so, he seeks to develop strong personal relationships with his students, encouraging them to pursue their passions and education with purpose, no college debt and above all, to derive meaning and satisfaction from a job well done.
“I always try to post success stories of students to draw interest from the outside and promote my program. I also post job openings and pictures of field trips and projects. This gives students much-needed recognition and also helps to dispel the myth that vocational schools are a dumping ground or for the ‘bad’ kids,” said Bronson. “Many parents still hold these old biases until they set foot on our campus. Unfortunately, it is hard to get them on campus but once they do and speak with an advisory member or former student; they become believers!”
Brad DeMent was recognized as a second place finisher. DeMent is a welding teacher at the Delaware Area Career Center (DACC) North Campus, located in Delaware, Ohio. Driven by his passion for welding, DeMent began teaching welding and sheet metal fabrication at DACC in 2011 following a career as a successful welder. Building on his training after high school, he undertook a few “half-hearted attempts at college” and ultimately graduated from the Hobart Institute of Welding Technology. In 2017, DeMent was one of 54 semifinalists for the inaugural Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence.
DeMent worked as a welder for McKinney Corp, based in Indiana, which builds chassis for top fuel dragsters and nitro funny cars, some that race at speeds over 330 mph. This experience provided DeMent with wonderful mentors and exposure to the highest levels of welding expertise. He then went to work as a TIG welder/fabricator, and rose to welding shift supervisor for a company in Ohio that builds cryogenic equipment for NASA, where the weld requirements call for 100% x-ray quality. DeMent said it was there that he came to think about supporting industry by educating students that were job-ready, observing that job openings were plentiful, but that most applicants lacked sufficient skills to fill them.
“Being a welder doesn’t sound like the most glorious job in the world,” offered DeMent. “However, there are things that being a welder can give you: job security, a sense of accomplishment, and it can make you lots of money, just to name a few.”
The prize was started in 2017 by Harbor Freight Tools Founder Eric Smidt to recognize extraordinary public high school skilled trades teachers and programs with a proven track record of dedication and performance. The prize, which is more than $1 million nationwide, is awarded by Harbor Freight Tools for Schools, a program of The Smidt Foundation.