PIQUA — Jeffrey Bertke, Electrical Trades instructor at the Upper Valley Career Center (UVCC), won a $100,000 prize recognizing excellence in skilled trades education on Thursday.
Bertke is one of three Grand Prize winners of the 2021 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence, and the funds from the prize will go back into the Electrical Trades program at UVCC.
Danny Corwin, a representative of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools, along with UVCC administrators, staff, and local business partners, surprised Bertke with the award on Thursday morning.
“This program at Upper Valley is spectacular,” Corwin said. This was the fifth year Harbor Freight Tools for Schools has awarded these prizes, and this was also the third time Bertke has applied for it.
“The application itself is very rigorous,” Corwin said. He read from some of Bertke’s application, which read, “I love the connections I get to make with the next generations of leaders. I love to see the joy on their faces when they solve a problem or can be successful at something that no one else in their family can do.”
“You’re making a difference, and we appreciate it,” UVCC Superintendent Jason Haak said.
Bertke has been an electrical trades teacher at UVCC for 11 years. After graduating from the program in 1999, he earned his journeyman license and entered the industry with passion for the trade and a love for learning.
After six years of industry experience, he was put in charge of teaching apprentices at his place of work—something he truly enjoyed and came in handy when his former high school teacher reached out to him in 2010 to ask if he was interested in teaching.
Despite complications this past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bertke persisted by including electrical simulators, online OSHA and employability skills training, and Cengage electrical curriculum to keep his students on track. He even taught students in-person from the school parking lot at times, maintaining distance and proctoring tests from his car.
Twenty out of his 23 seniors qualified for a pre-apprenticeship through the Ohio Apprenticeship Council, meaning they can get their journeyman credential a year ahead of others around the state. The remaining three seniors qualified for other placement opportunities in electrical supply and maintenance. His program is one of three programs in the school that fill up within the first 24 hours of availability and has a waiting list.
“I come to school every day with a smile on my face because I love what I do,” Bertke said following Thursday’s surprise. Bertke said he sought to highlight what his students were doing, saying, “We do amazing things and let’s keep shining that spotlight on us.”
Bertke’s base curriculum is NCCER Core and Electrical Level 1, which saves his students one year of apprenticeship training. He revisits the curriculum every year with his board of advisory members and makes modifications where necessary to keep the program strong.