PIQUA — Two Upper Valley Career Center (UVCC) teachers were surprised Tuesday, morning, on Oct. 3, with a total of $150,000 in prizes recognizing excellence in skilled trades education.
Andy Buehler, UVCC automotive teacher, is one of the five $100,000 grand prize winners of the 2023 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence. Konner Keller, UVCC manufacturing teacher, is one of 20 $50,000 prize winners.
The Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence was started in 2017 by Eric Smidt, the founder of national tool retailer Harbor Freight Tools, to recognize outstanding instruction in the skilled trades in U.S. public high schools and the teachers who inspire students to learn skills to prepare for life after graduation, said a press release from Harbor Fright Tools.
Buehler was the first teacher surprised Tuesday morning by his students, UVCC faculty members, members of the media and Harbor Freight Tools District Manager Benjamin Moore, and Harbor Freight Tools Program Manager Tae Kang with the $100,000 check in the high school’s auto tech lab.
“This is pretty awesome,” said a shocked Buehler with big smile. “And this month is a busy month for us. We got the birth of our third child on the way, so it’s a lot going on. But, year, this is awesome. I usually have words, but right now, I’m … (at a loss for words).“
His family, including his wife Amy and their two daughters were present for the surprise. Amy praised her husband as a role model and hard worker, as did colleges of his at the school.
UVCC’s skilled trades program is receiving $70,000, and Buehler is receiving $30,000 for his great work as a teacher.
According to information provided by Harbor Freight Tools, growing up, Buehler had a “fascination with all things mechanical,” which led him to tinker with go-karts, lawn mowers, and eventually his first car. He discovered his passion for teaching when he worked as a heavy truck technician for the Ohio Department of Transportation, where he mentored several interns, leading him to his current job at UVCC. Buehler has earned 23 Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certifications, which include master automotive, master medium/heavy truck, master automotive collision, advanced engine performance specialist, electronic diesel engine diagnosis specialist, and the G1 maintenance and light repair. In 2018, he received a “World Class Technician Award” from the Autocare Association and ASE. In 2021 and 2022, he participated in the US Autotech National Championship, placing in the top 16 semifinals and fourth in the nation, respectively.
Buehler treats his classroom like a real-life shop where the students are the “employees,” said the press release. He emphasizes the importance of work ethic, professionalism, and punctuality, providing rewards when they have a productive week. Students use the hands-on skills they learn in the classroom to carry out repairs and inspections on customer vehicles.
After Buehler, Keller was next taken by surprise when his classroom was ambushed by the same group and his students to announced he has won a $50,000 check.
“This is just awesome,” said an emotional Keller, as he reached for words. “The trades are really important to me. This is really going to help the family out; help you guys (the students) out — and that’s what it’s all about. So, thank you guys for being good students and giving me the opportunity to teach you what I know and … this is important to me.”
The school is receiving $35,000, and Keller is receiving $15,000.
Keller teaches manufacturing and robotics at UVCC. Drawing on his prior career as a robotics programmer and systems integrator, Keller’s passion for solving complex challenges led him to pursue a career as a skilled trades teacher, said the release. Keller’s project-based class prioritizes learning applied problem solving in order to provide students with industry experience that will make them competitive in the job market. The culmination of his program is a capstone project which students must design, program, and build, then present at an open house for industry professionals, program advisory members, friends, family, and the community. These projects have included a robotic coffee barista, a Jenga block-stacking robot, and a robotic black-jack card dealer. Every experience in the classroom is an opportunity to learn, and Keller incorporates automation and programming across the classroom even for simple tasks like taking a restroom break. Keller’s students must master a number of electrical and manufacturing skills, such as electrical wiring, panel building and basic metal fabrication.
Keller’s students have the opportunity to showcase their skills in robotics and automation, mechatronics, and additive manufacturing competitions through their SkillsUSA chapter. In 2022, two of his students won first place in the Ohio SkillsUSA Robotics and Automation Competition and placed third in the national competition.
In total, Harbor Freight Tools for Schools is awarding $1.5 million in prizes to 25 skilled trades teachers nationwide, said a Harbor Freight Tools press release.
With this year’s prize, Harbor Freight Tools for Schools will have awarded more than $7 million to more than 130 U.S. public high school teachers and their schools’ programs — supporting tens of thousands of students along the way, said the release. The 2023 prize drew more applications than ever — more than 1,000, from all 50 states. Winners were selected by an independent panel of judges with expertise in career and technical education.
Harbor Freight Tools for Schools is a program of The Smidt Foundation, established by Harbor Freight Tools owner and founder Eric Smidt, to advance excellent skilled trades education in U.S. public high schools. With a deep respect for the dignity of these fields and for the intelligence and creativity of people who work with their hands, Harbor Freight Tools for Schools aims to drive a greater understanding of and investment in skilled trades education, believing that access to quality skilled trades education gives high school students pathways to graduation, opportunity, good jobs and a workforce our country needs. Harbor Freight Tools is a major supporter of the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools program.
For more information, visit: www.harborfreighttoolsforschools.org.