“I have now been teaching for 21 years, and still feel like I have the excitement of that first day I ever taught.”
In high school, Mike Shallenberger preferred working with his hands to his regular coursework. His love of trades led him to work in the construction industry immediately after graduation. Eight years later, after serving for years as property staff at a youth camp, Shallenberger decided to pursue teaching full time.
“I wanted to help students in school that were probably just as frustrated as I used to be,” Shallenberger said in his prizewinning application. “I felt called to make a difference in their lives.”
Earlier in his 21-year teaching career, through an industry advisor, Shallenberger learned about the growing field of mechatronics and decided to create a program to help students answer the need for technicians in the field.
“This program is designed to meet a huge industry need and is preparing students for an emerging technology,” Shallenberger said. “It is critical that we have a qualified workforce that can help us design, implement and maintain this automated equipment.”
Today, Shallenberger’s students start their mechatronics education with a stack of metal stock, a drill press and technical drawings. From there, they fabricate their own robot chassis from scratch, learning along the way how to work as a team, develop a project plan and hone their machine skills. As class continues, students modify and adapt their robots for new “challenges”—Shallenberger structures assignments as competitions.
Shallenberger fosters connectivity between his students and industry with Career Discovery, a program he designed in partnership with local industry experts to keep his curriculum current, offer tours and facilitate paid internship opportunities that students can pursue year-round while earning class credit as well. His students have the chance to earn their associate degree, tuition-free, while still in high school, or transfer credits for a bachelor’s degree. Students also leave prepared to earn industry certifications in robotics, programming, mechatronics and mechanical design.
“Have you ever been thankful when things like an elevator or traffic light work correctly, or ever noticed the shipping label on the box that was just dropped off at your doorstep? What about that life-saving medical equipment like a dialysis machine, or the much-needed ventilators to help those with COVID-19? All of these machines, and more, affect and improve our life daily because of the mechatronic technicians that install, maintain and repair them.”