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Portage teacher named state’s Technology Educator of the Year

March 16, 2018

When Richard Hemler was named a statewide organization’s teacher of the year, he took the opportunity to remember those who had helped him.

“There’s such a rich tradition of teachers who came before me,” said Hemler, who has been named the Technology Educator of the Year by the Wisconsin Technology Education Association.

Hemler, who has taught technology education in Portage since 1997, noted Norm Bednarek and Dan Jones were two of his mentors at Portage High School. Bednarek taught technology education at the school for 30 years until he retired in 2007, and Jones taught it in Portage for more than 30 years, and received the same award in 2009.

The work they did, Hemler said, helped to make technology education what it is today.

The association, which last week held its 49th annual conference in Wisconsin Dells, considered technology education teachers from across the state before selecting Hemler, who’d been nominated for the award by Troy Kumm and Jesse Huset. Kumm is a past automotive instructor in Portage who now teaches in Marshfield, Hemler said. Huset is a technology educator in Pardeeville who also previously worked with Hemler in Portage.

“Rich is such a student-centered individual,” said Joseph Ciontea, executive director of the education group and one of the seven members of the selection committee. “His commitment to the quality of the program and the goals he sets for his students to achieve is the reason he gets the award, it really is.”

“I wouldn’t be the teacher I am today without Rich,” said Portage High School technology education instructor Ben King, who was hired in 2015. “He strives for the best from his students and teachers — not just in technology education but for the entire staff.”

“He helps me in any way he can,” King added, “and he spends more time than anybody else I know helping others.”

For the annual award, the association recognizes technology education teachers who “provide leadership in an innovative, exemplary, or emerging program and promote the development of technology education in the community, region, state and/or nation,” according to its website.

The three-day conference provides opportunities for educators to learn from industry professionals and other educators, featuring several workshops and trade shows.

“I’m happy about it, but there are too many people who work so hard,” Hemler said of his award, referring to King and fellow technology education teacher Dustan Garrigan, who leads the automotive instruction at the school.

One recent accomplishment involving Hemler’s department is the school’s science, technology, engineering and math program called “Enterprise,” which functions as a three-credit course for sophomores interested in the skilled trades. The program is in its second year. In Enterprise, which involves hands-on projects like making rockets out of water bottles, students earn credits in the core subject areas, opening more time for apprenticeships in their senior years.

On the upswing

“What you’re seeing right now is a huge skills workforce gap,” Hemler said, “so there’s a bigger push” for technology education programming than ever, and that has made it easier for schools to receive outside support and acquire grants.

“Right away I saw the upswing for technology education, and it’s been continuing,” King said of his first three years as a teacher.

Said Ciontea: “I think the world has realized that it’s our graduates who will fix our cars and build our houses and our washing machines and who will stay in their communities and pay taxes. The teachers who get that, they build the programs that partner with local industries and employers, which makes it easier for the teachers to recruit students.

“More students are thinking: ‘Hey, if I do this, I can go to college for a year or two and get a good job where I (already) live.’

“We’re popular again.”