By Scott Sullivan
Saugatuck Middle-High School industrial education teacher Vince Heyser is one of three area instructors named finalists for a Lake-shore Advantage Visionary Award.
Lakeshore, a local nonprofit economic development organization, recog- nizes an outstanding K-12 teacher each year for leading in career exploration with students.
“Early career education is critical to bridging the talent gap our employers face,” LA president Jennifer Owens said. “We believe that sharing these successful initiatives will inspire others in education and industry to create additional connections between in-demand career opportunities and our future workforce.”
“Vince Heyser,” said SPS Superintendent Tim Travis, “is a rare educator who is loved and appreciated locally for his passion for industrial arts, the trades and for kids.
“The (LA) award is a perfect vehicle for spreading Vince’s impact in preparing students for in-demand careers and to become well-rounded adults,” Travis said.
Heyser joined Otsego Middle School teacher Dave McCallum and Allegan County Area Technical & Education Center welding instructor Rich Currie as finalists for the honor.
The winner, chosen via an online voting process open to LA investors only, will be honored at the organization’s annual meeting Jan. 18. He will receive $1,000 to fund additional in-demand career education programs for his school and a $500 Visa Gift Card, both sponsored by 5/3 Bank.
Heyser started at Saugatuck schools teaching furniture building and cabinetry. He has since diversified the program to teach more job skills and reach more career paths.
He also connects his students to community projects using the skills they are learning, such as public signage, art, philanthropy and more.
Starting with furniture building, wrote Heyser in his award application, “it became evident that if we were to diversify we could teach more job skills and reach more career paths.
“In time I was able to add the courses of small engine technology, residential construction, computer aided machining, welding and fabricating, and a home improvement course (plumbing, residential electrical, flooring, drywall, etc.),” he continued.
“My students have been active in the community in many ways including building the Mt. Baldhead star, Oval Beach sign, steel framework for the Douglas Root Beer Barrel, repairing lawn mowers, building toys for tots, exhibits for the historical society and a local children’s museum, sheds for the Outdoor Discovery Center, and countless other projects for people in the area communities. We also build and repair endless items for the school itself.
“All these tasks have helped students gain real-world experiences dealing with people and mimicking what workers do in the many related in-demand careers. Another highlight was when my students and I hosted a festival where my students taught their skills to other people in the communities.
Heyser started an after-school robotics team to help bridge even more careers to the program. “My students learn more skills,” he said, “because we do not use a pre-made robot kit or outsource parts.
“This program exposes students to in-demand careers such as CNC machining, aluminum TIG welding, 3D printing, electronics, engineering and computer programming.
“Funding these experiences for my students has been a never ending challenge,” wrote Heyser. “I have worked diligently to try and raise funds through grants, sponsorships, raffles, auctions and donations.
“I have advocated for my students to secure bond-related funds to update old and irrelevant equipment to modern equipment used in industry. These updated machines give my students a competitive edge in the workforce and higher education.
“I will never master this complex profession,” Heyser said of teaching. “My program evolves with industry and I continually study what is current so we can be up to date as much as possible.
“My students and I visit area factories and manufacturing facilities. These experiences motivate them and give them direct feedback from people working in the industry.
“Saugatuck industrial education helps keep kids focused, inspired, and reaching for success in the skilled trades,” Heyser’s application said.