$1 million in prizes awarded to U.S. trades teachers
Harbor Freight Tools for Schools

LOS ANGELES — The Harbor Freight Tools for Schools program has named 18 winners of its $1 million Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence, including three grand prize winners from Colorado, Ohio and Virginia.

The annual Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence, now in its fifth year, was created to spotlight excellence among high school skilled traded teachers, a group of educators that is often overlooked and underappreciated. In recent months, the importance of high-quality skilled trades education has received more attention nationally because of an urgent shortage of skilled tradespeople in the workforce.

“Skilled trades teachers in public high schools will play a key role in developing the skilled workforce needed to fill the gap. When students learn the trades in high school, they gain a head start on the road to good-paying jobs and fulfilling careers,” said Eric Smidt, founder of the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools, in a statement.  

According to Smidt, this short video explains why this work is so important and "celebrates the amazing high school skilled trades teachers dedicated to meeting the challenge." 


Danny Corwin, executive director of the program, said that the trades teachers and their programs are an essential part of addressing the skilled trades worker shortage. “These dedicated educators make a huge difference in the lives of young people every day, setting them on a course for a meaningful career and to make a difference in their community,” he said.

The Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence grand prize winners are:

Jeffrey Bertke, Electrical Trades
Upper Valley Career Center
Piqua, Ohio
Scott Burke, Construction
Green Mountain High School
Lakewood, Colo.
Derek Wray, Automotive & Diesel Technology
Salem High School
Salem, Va.
The grand prize winners and their schools will receive $100,000, including $70,000 for the high school skilled trades program and $30,000 to the teacher. An additional 15 prize winners and their schools will each receive $50,000 with $35,000 going to the high school skilled trades program and $15,000 to the teacher. Due to the school, district or state policy regarding individual cash awards, the schools of two of the winners will receive the entire prize winnings.

Overall, there are winners from 14 states: Alabama, California, Colorado, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin and West Virginia.

The Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence was launched in 2017 by Smidt to recognize outstanding instruction in the skilled trades in U.S. public high schools. Over the past five years, the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence has been awarded to 89 trades teachers and impacted more than 100,000 students. The mission of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools is to increase understanding, support and investment in skilled trades education in U.S. public high schools.

“Among the key things we came to appreciate during the pandemic is the value of hands-on learning and the incredible resilience and commitment of our teachers,’’ Smidt said. “We are grateful that these outstanding prize winners and thousands of educators like them across the country are developing tomorrow’s skilled workforce.’’

Cash awards given to schools will support winning teachers’ skilled trades programs. Individual winnings can be used however the winners wish.

The 2021 prize drew more than 700 applications from 49 states and included three rounds of judging, each by an independent panel of experts from industry, education, trades, philanthropy and civic leadership. The application process, which included responses to questions and a series of 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.

In July, the field was narrowed to 61 finalists. The high school skilled trades programs of the 43 finalists who were not named winners today will each receive a $1,000 gift card from Harbor Freight Tools. 

Here is a list of the 15 additional $50,000 Prize Winners:

  • Jay Abitz, Automotive & Collision Repair, Freedom HS, Freedom, Wis.
  • Jessica Bowlin, Construction Technology, Auburn HS, Auburn, Ala.
  • Benjamin Carpenter, Welding, John F. Kennedy HS, Richmond, Calif.
  • Brian Copes, Construction & Manufacturing, Chickasaw HS, Chickasaw, Ala.
  • John Gunderson, Automotive Technology, John Jay HS, San Antonio, Tex.
  • Nicholas Jordan, Construction, Montecito HS, Ramona, Calif.
  • Stephen Lindridge, Machine Tool Technology, Candor Central HS, Candor, N.Y.
  • John Lockhart, Agriculture Mechanics, South Harrison HS, Lost Creek, W.Va.
  • Casey Lunceford, Agricultural Mechanics, Ronan HS, Ronan, Mont.
  • Kim Rosenbaum, Welding, Twin Lakes HS, Monticello, Ind.
  • Andrew Saweikis, Welding & Fabrication, Rockland BOCES CTE, West Nyack, N.Y.
  • Staci Sievert, Industrial Technology, Seymour Community HS, Seymour, Wis
  • Eric Wagaman, Construction, Franklin County Career & Technology Center, Chambersburg, Pa.
  • Gary Weese, Automotive Technology, Caddo Career & Technology Center Shreveport, La.
  • Brian Welch, Agricultural Mechanic, Madisonville North Hopkins HS Madisonville, Ky.

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Larry Adams | Editor

Larry Adams is a Chicago-based writer and editor who writes about how things get done. A former wire service and community newspaper reporter, Larry is an award-winning writer with more than three decades of experience. In addition to writing about woodworking, he has covered science, metrology, metalworking, industrial design, quality control, imaging, Swiss and micromanufacturing . He was previously a Tabbie Award winner for his coverage of nano-based coatings technology for the automotive industry. Larry volunteers for the historic preservation group, the Kalo Foundation/Ianelli Studios, and the science-based group, Chicago Council on Science and Technology (C2ST).