A welding teacher from Sikeston, Missouri has won first place in the 2019 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence, earning his high school skilled trades program $70,000 as part of $1 million awarded nationally.
Brent Trankler, who teaches welding at Sikeston Career and Technology Center (SCTC) in Sikeston, was surprised in his classroom by a representative from Harbor Freight Tools for Schools with the news that he and his school will receive $100,000—$70,000 for the school’s skilled trades program and $30,000 for him personally.
“Skilled trades educators are crucial to helping students stay engaged and motivated in high school,” said Danny Corwin, executive director of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools. “These amazing teachers connect students to promising careers, show them how to apply academics to the real world and help them feel pride and accomplishment—something they might not experience in all their classes. We make these awards because we believe in these teachers, we believe in these students, and we believe this vital sector deserves more support and investment.”
Two other $100,000 first-place prizes were awarded to Cesar Gutierrez, a precision manufacturing teacher at Desert View High School in Tucson, Arizona and Wendy Schepman, a landscape operations teacher at South Fork High School in Stuart, Florida. Each of the 15 second-place winners, hailing from 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 $32,000 to 32 semifinalists.
The Prize for Teaching Excellence was started in 2017 by Harbor Freight Tools Founder Eric Smidt to recognize extraordinary public high school skilled trades teachers and programs. Prizes are awarded by Harbor Freight Tools for Schools, a program of The Smidt Foundation.
“All of our roads and bridges, our schools and homes, and our planes and automobiles are built and are maintained by tradespeople,” Smidt said. “It is our dedicated skilled trades teachers, who inspire students to pursue these meaningful careers, that allow our economy to thrive and make so much of what we depend on possible. We are deeply honored to be able to shine a light on these extraordinary teachers today.”
An army veteran, Trankler is a model of lifelong learning for his students, having earned two bachelor’s degrees, two master’s degrees, and industry certifications including becoming a National Occupational Competency Testing Institute Welding Technology Subject Matter Expert.
“I think of welding technology as academics in motion,” Trankler said. “My course includes hands-on lab activities with over $350,000 worth of equipment that brings science, technology, engineering and math into focus.”
A teacher at SCTC since 2010, Trankler provides his students a curriculum aligned with the American Welding Society’s national skill standards and coursework that earns them transferable college credit at local technical schools like Northeastern Arkansas College, where Trankler serves on the curriculum review committee. Beyond his own classroom, Trankler supports local welding instructors by serving on their advisory committees and helping them align their programs with national welding standards.
The school’s prize winnings will support the skilled trades program being recognized, and the teacher’s or teacher team winnings can be used as they wish. The high schools of the remaining 32 semifinalists will each receive a $1,000 Harbor Freight Tools gift card to support their skilled trades programs.
The 2019 prize drew nearly 750 applications from 49 states and included three rounds of judging, each by a separate independent panel of experts from industry, education, trades, philanthropy and civic leadership. The field was narrowed this summer to 50 semifinalists. 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.
Photo Above: Brent Trankler