An industrial diesel mechanics teacher from Wilmington was named today one of the top public high school skilled trades teachers in the country as a first-place winner of the 2018 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence, earning his school $100,000 as part of $1 million awarded nationally.
Gary Bronson, who teaches industrial diesel mechanics at Laurel Oaks Career Campus in Wilmington, was surprised by a representative from Harbor Freight Tools for Schools with the news that his school will receive $100,000.
“The creativity and hands-on projects that Mr. Bronson and the other winning teachers bring to their classrooms is an inspiration,” said Danny Corwin, executive director of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools. “This is education at its best, and we are humbled to honor these teachers and shine a light on excellence in skilled trades education.”
Gary Bronson has taught industrial diesel mechanics at Laurel Oaks Career Campus for seven years after working as a professional diesel technician and mechanic for nearly two decades, inspired by the engines and automotive classes he took in high school. In Bronson’s lab, students use basic electrical principles to tackle projects like building mobility scooters and repairing large boats and jet skis. His student teams start with shop safety and procedures and advance to overhauling engines.
“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,” Bronson wrote in his prize application.
“Gary’s students are a testament to his work,” Laurel Oaks Dean Kevin Abt told the crowd assembled to honor Bronson. “His dedication and connection to students provide an example for all teachers.”
In one of the most complex projects in his classroom, Bronson’s students work on an International ProStar truck replacing the brakes, wiring the lighting and completing its annual inspection. Under Bronson’s leadership, the truck has become a project for other skilled trades students at Laurel Oaks, as they work together to debut the truck at the Cavalcade of Customs auto show in Cincinnati. This is one of many field trips to Cincinnati he takes students on each year. Bronson actively engages his advisory board to be part of these trips as providers of donations, tours, and future job shadowing and employment.
To keep the classroom humming, Bronson utilizes competitions, including trivia and student prizes, to recognize student learning, collaboration and success and to communicate this honor to families and the larger community.
“Being a former vocational student, I know the lifelong impact a vocational education can have on a student,” Bronson said. “I enjoy being able to give back to my students in and out of school.”
The 2018 prize drew more than 550 applications from 49 states and included three rounds of judging, each by an independent panel that included experts from industry, education, trades, philanthropy and civic leadership. The field was narrowed this summer to 52 semi-finalists. The application process, which included responses to questions and a series of online video learning modules, was designed to solicit each teacher’s experience, insights and creative ideas about their approach to teaching and success in helping their students achieve excellence in the skilled trades.
Two other $100,000 first-place prizes were awarded to a construction trades teacher from Michigan and a welding teacher from Georgia. Those winners will each receive $100,000—$70,000 for the high school skilled trades program and $30,000 to the teacher. Because of Ohio’s state policy regarding individual cash awards to public employees, Bronson’s school will receive the entire prize winnings.
Each of the 15 second-place winners across the country were also surprised with the news they and their schools will receive $50,000. In addition to the more than $1 million in first- and second-place prizes awarded by Harbor Freight Tools for Schools, the company Harbor Freight Tools donated $34,000 to 34 semi-finalists.
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 is awarded by Harbor Freight Tools for Schools, a program of The Smidt Foundation.
“These incredible teachers are an inspiration—to their students, to their communities and to us,” said Eric Smidt, Harbor Freight Tools founder. “They are masters of their trades and instill in their students a passion for the skilled trades that gives them a path to a meaningful, good-paying career. These are local jobs in every community across America, building and repairing homes, fixing cars and appliances, and so much more. We’re honored to be able to recognize these teachers for inspiring and developing the future workforce our country needs.”