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2019 Prize Winner

Jodi Lancaster


Livingston Area Career Center, IL

“What I love most about being a skilled trade teacher is seeing the impact each new opportunity I bring to my classroom has on both my students and their families. My goal has always been to provide my students with as many pathways as I can, so they can get to where they want to be no matter what obstacles they may have in their way.”

Jodi Lancaster sees her life as a series of obstacles that brought her unexpected opportunities. As a student, she was told she wasn’t college material due to her learning disabilities—so she went to trade school and became a cosmetologist. When she had to cut that career short after developing a chemical allergy, she tried working as a temp. When she was unable to earn enough money temping, she became the second woman to complete Midwest Technical Institute’s welding certification program. She decided to become a teacher so she could dedicate time to her family, earning a bachelor’s degree in special education, a master’s degree in administration and a welding teacher credential.

Lancaster has taught at the Livingston Area Career Center in Pontiac, Illinois for 12 years. She aligns her curriculum to the American Welding Society’s SENSE program, to Heartland Community College’s dual credit offerings—through which students can earn more than a dozen credits—and to the Common Core standards for career and technical education in English and math. Lancaster works closely with local business through a roundtable she created—making sure that her lessons develop the skills
businesses need from future employees—and coordinates with fellow welding teachers on curriculum, even across states.

Students in Lancaster’s classes have many opportunities to think critically and act entrepreneurially. One year, Lancaster’s students came together to support a classmate who wanted to weld keys to create a sculpture for a SkillsUSA competition. The class met a locksmith, learned what keys are made of and their melting point, and finally experimented with different filler rods and heat levels to create the artwork, which won third place. In another instance, Lancaster created a collaboration between her students and an engineering class, requiring them to work in teams to develop a prototype, a weld procedure sheet and a quality control method. Her students have also built kennels for local animal shelters and run class fundraisers by creating Christmas decorations.

“Some students need to go straight into the workforce but want a career, not just a job. Many families can’t afford to send their child on to school or don’t know where to start the process. This is where I believe I make the most impact for my students and their families… When an obstacle has been removed and a student finally sees a way to pursue their own dreams—it is the feeling I get in those moments that I love most about being a skilled trade teacher. It is those moments that energize me to keep going, keep working and keep building my program each and every day.”