In this Oct. 22 photo, Kelly Shaw, left, talks with Matthew Beckwitch about a Tire Pressure Monitor Initializer during an Advanced Automotive Class at Hutchison High School in Fairbanks.

In this Oct. 22 photo, Kelly Shaw, left, talks with Matthew Beckwitch about a Tire Pressure Monitor Initializer during an Advanced Automotive Class at Hutchison High School in Fairbanks.

Fairbanks schools quietly become auto skills powerhouses

FAIRBANKS — When it comes to career and technical education, the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District can compete with the best and biggest.

North Pole High School automotive teacher Gerry Million’s automotive students have been bringing home first place awards from AAA for years, and Hutchison High School has been churning out qualified career candidates right out of high school for years, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

Million’s automotive program is a powerhouse in the state, but then Hutch brought in a secret weapon — Kelly Shaw. Now in his fourth year at Hutch, Shaw is turning the career and technical high school’s auto program into a similarly dominating force, guiding his students to first place in the Alaska Auto Skills competition in each of his first three years.

Shaw’s students have taken second place at AAA several times now, just behind North Pole. But when the Alaska AAA competition went away and Million announced his team would compete at Auto Skills it became clear a showdown was on the horizon.

It may not be quite as viewer friendly as, say, a dramatic sports matchup between the schools, but the North Pole versus Hutchison automotive showdown is one of the most intriguing match ups in high school competition.

Both Million and Shaw were recognized for their achievements in career and technical education. Million won Alaska CTE Educator of the Year, while Shaw won New CTE Educator of the Year, an award given to a teacher with fewer than four years in the field.

West Valley High School teacher Wendi Graham was honored Wednesday as well, receiving the award for outstanding career guidance from a teacher. Graham leads the district’s internship program with the city of Fairbanks.

While these days, Million and Shaw are both in the education game, it wasn’t always that way. Both came to the district from careers outside of education. Shaw began his teaching career in 2012 when he started part time at Hutch.

Before that, he had spent most of his life in the automotive industry, in which he first started at the age of 16. He holds the title of Master ACE Automotive Technician, a national certification. After working in the industry for years, though, Shaw elected for a change of scenery, so he took a job at the Fairbanks North Star Borough to work in the air quality department, where he designed and built the borough’s air quality monitors.

Once the air quality monitors were completed, though, the job at the borough turned much more toward analysis.

“I’m not really a data guy,” Shaw said, adding that his interests bend much more toward hands-on work. In that way, Shaw exemplifies the spirit of career and technical education in the school district.

So he turned again to a new path, this time looking toward a job at Hutch. With one year left to be vested in his state benefits, he decided to wait one more year. When that year was up, he bought a house across the street from Hutch, called up the district’s director of career and technical education, Daniel Domke, and said, “I want to teach.”

Shaw’s knowledge of the automotive industry is undoubted, but when he started at Hutch he had no previous teaching experience. So he leaned on the other teachers at the school. It was with their help during the last three years that he has been able to get where he is today, Shaw said.

Domke was effusive in his praise of Shaw and his industry qualifications.

“Kelly Shaw is a recognized air quality expert,” Domke said. “The district was very fortunate to hire Kelly Shaw directly out of industry.”

When it comes to career and technical education Shaw and Domke share similar philosophies. Students should be prepared for more than just a single possible career path — they should be taught the soft skills as well and the skills that employers are looking for specifically.

For instance, Shaw has spoken frequently with his colleagues in the mining industry, who have told him the most important thing they look for in new hires is an ability and awareness to maintain 100 percent safety — accidents cost both employer and employee in numerous ways when working with heavy equipment.

In March, Shaw’s students will have the chance to compete against Million’s and others in the Alaska Auto Skills competition. Neither of the two teachers would say they’re focused on coaching their kids for the competition to take down the other school. Every day, they teach their students the minute details others don’t so when a competition like Auto Skills comes up, or when a career opportunity presents itself, their students are more prepared than any others.

“You have to let them work their way through it,” Shaw said. “If you help them they lose the experience. There’s a lot of pride and ownership of the (repair).”

More in News

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Aurora forecast for the week of April 8

These forecasts are courtesy of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute… Continue reading

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Friday, April 12, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Thursday, April 11, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

The sky and mountains are reflected in the water on April 5, 2012, at the Kootznoowoo Wilderness in the Tongass National Forest’s Admiralty Island National Monument. Conservation organizations bought some private land and transferred it to the U.S. Forest Service, resulting in an incremental expansion of the Kootznoowoo Wilderness and protection of habitat important to salmon and wildlife. (Photo by Don MacDougall/U.S. Forest Service)
Conservation groups’ purchase preserves additional land in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest

A designated wilderness area in Southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, the largest… Continue reading

A welcome sign is shown Sept. 22, 2021, in Tok. President Joe Biden won Alaska’s nominating contest on Saturday. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
Biden wins more delegates in Alaska and Wyoming as he heads toward Democratic nomination

President Joe Biden nudged further ahead in the Democratic nomination for reelection… Continue reading

Juneau Assembly members and other visitors examine a meeting room formerly used by the nine-member Alaska State Board of Education and Early Development on Monday, April 8, which is about 25% larger than the Assembly Chambers at City Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Of three possible new City Hall buildings, one stands out — but plenty of proposed uses for other two

Michael J. Burns Building eyed as city HQ; childcare, animal shelter among options at school sites.

Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, speaks to members of the Senate majority caucus’ leadership group on Friday. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Schools, university and projects across Alaska are set to receive money from new budget bill

Alaska Senate sends draft capital budget to House as work continues on a state spending plan

The Boney Courthouse in downtown Anchorage, across the street from the larger Nesbett Courthouse, holds the Alaska Supreme Court chambers. (Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska judge strikes down state’s cash payments to families using correspondence school programs

Decision will become a ‘hot-button legislative item’ in final weeks of session, lawmakers say.

A statue of William Henry Seward stands outside the Dimond Courthouse in downtown Juneau. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)
Juneau man convicted of sexual abuse of 15-year-old girl more than four years after incidents occur

JPD: Randy James Willard, 39, sent explicit videos to and engaged in sexual contact with victim.

Most Read