DACC Welding Instructor Awarded $50,000 for Program

November 15, 2018

DACC's Welding Instructor, Brad DeMent, won second-place in the 2018 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence, earning his high school skilled trades program $50,000 as part of $1 million awarded nationally.

Mr. DeMent was surprised in his classroom today by a representative from Harbor Freight Tools for Schools with the news that his school will receive $50,000.

“The creativity and hands-on projects that Mr. DeMent 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.”

Three $100,000 first-place prizes were awarded to a welding teacher from Georgia, a building trades teacher from Michigan and an industrial diesel mechanics teacher from Ohio, with the prize winnings split between the individual teacher or team and their high school skilled trades program. Fifteen second-place winners across the country, including DeMent, were also surprised with the news that they and their schools had won the cash award. Because of Ohio’s state policy regarding individual cash awards to public employees, DeMent’s school will receive the entire prize winnings. 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.”

Brad DeMent began teaching at DACC North Campus in 2011 after working in the industry as a welder for McKinney Corp, which builds chassis for top fuel dragsters and nitro funny cars, and as a TIG welder/fabricator for a company that builds cryogenic equipment for NASA. It was there that he came to think about supporting industry by educating students that were job-ready, observing that job openings were plentiful, but that most applicants lacked sufficient skills to fill them. In 2017, DeMent was one of 54 semifinalists for the inaugural Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence.

“Skilled trades are exactly that:  skilled,” DeMent wrote in his application for the prize. “Students that work hard will be rewarded!”

DeMent emphasizes foundational skills with his students, including training in the fundamentals of safety and the importance of developing good habits. His coursework covers major areas of welding, along with learning machine operations, reading blueprints, and layout and fabrication techniques. Students also learn employability skills, which they are graded on daily. DeMent mixes in fun projects like the design, fabrication and welding of a trebuchet to compete in the state’s annual Pumpkin Chunkin contest.

Through his enthusiastic stewardship, DeMent has grown the welding program from only six students to 45 with a waiting list. By introducing students to job shadowing, multiple interactions with industry leaders and practitioners, and by insisting that students practice employability skills daily, 70 percent of DeMent’s students now actively participate in job placement/internship programs. DACC also has articulated agreements with Columbus State Community College so students can earn college credit hours while in high school. 

“My goal every time I speak to parents and guardians is for them to understand that this path can be the right path,” DeMent said. “I let them see and hear about the possibilities that are available to the students who want these opportunities. This industry changed my life and it can change theirs, too.”

The first-place winners of the 2018 prize are Gary Bronson, an industrial diesel mechanics teacher at Laurel Oaks Career Campus in Wilmington, Ohio, Charles Kachmar, who teaches metals and welding at Maxwell High School of Technology in Lawrenceville, Georgia, and Andrew J. Neumann, a building trades teacher at Bay Arenac Intermediate School District Career Center in Bay City, Michigan. Kachmar and Neumann will each receive $100,000—$70,000 for the school’s skilled trades program and $30,000 for the teacher. Because of Ohio’s state policy regarding individual cash awards to public employees, Bronson’s school will receive the entire prize winnings.

The school’s prize winnings will support the skilled trades program being recognized, and the teacher’s or teacher team winnings can be used at their discretion.

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.

For more information about the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence, including the final round panels of judges, please visit hftforschoolsprize.org.