Creating Centers of Excellence

Continuing the Itasca Area Schools Collaborative (IASC) Next Career Pathways series, we will highlight individual schools and communities. For this highlight we will turn our focus to Nashwauk-Keewatin High School. Teachers Joe Gabardi and Luke Adam; students Braden Depaulis and Myles Nagler; and Dan Edwards with Midwest Manufacturing and Mechanical, Inc. spoke to the Herald-Review about their experience with Career Pathways.

Luke Adam is a mathematics teacher who also teaches the Spartan Angling class as a part of the Natural Resources Pathway.

“I have taught math for nearly 20 years and have always loved to fish,” said Adam. “I have always wondered how I can integrate the two, as teaching students how to fish doesn’t even sound like work! I don’t have a degree in Natural Resources, but just a passion for the outdoors and teaching.”

Spartan Angling is staying busy with projects this year, including learning how to build fishing rods and how to tie knots. Students are also beginning to learn about fish behaviors, biology and migratory patterns. The class is preparing for their first trip to Blue Lake where they will fish for panfish, as well as a trip to Lake of the Woods. Students will stay overnight at Border View Lodge in early March to fish for walleye and learn about running a resort.

Joe Gabardi is an industrial arts teacher at Nashwauk-Keewatin High School and teaches classes that are a part of the Manufacturing Pathway. He teaches Industrial Metals 1, Industrial Metals 2, Industrial Metals 3, Production Management, Women’s Shop, as well as the Career Pathways capstone Manufacturing Career Internship Course.

“My father was an automotive and welding instructor for 33 years,” Gabardi shared. “Growing up I always had an interest in hands-on work. Throughout my high school years, my knowledge and passion for the trades only grew. It was a perfect fit for my passions of industrial tech along with the enjoyment of helping others.”

Gabardi said there is always exciting projects happening in the shop program. Currently, one of his classes is working on an electric conversion vehicle.

“We are in the process of taking a 1984 Pontiac Fiero and converting it into an electric vehicle,” Gabardi explained.

Furthermore, Gabardi is looking forward to beginning year three of the career internship program within the Manufacturing Pathway. Beginning in the second semester of this school year, he will have 15 students from Nashwauk, Grand Rapids, and Greenway out working with industrial partners all throughout the local area.

“It has been a very successful program and continues to grow each year,” Gabardi stated. “I can’t thank all our business partners enough for their willingness to step up and welcome our students each year.”

He extended his thanks to the manufacturing business partners for the 2022 school year including: ASV, Zakobe/Cast& Color, Swan Machine, Midwest Manufacturing, L&M Radiator, Hibbing Fabricators, Range Steel, Northland Machine, Dakota Fluid Power, ISCO Industries, and ROX Speed FX.

“We are getting our future workforce exposed to many different opportunities across our region. Industry is looking for workers, and I have students looking for job possibilities,” Gabardi said. “The career internship program is helping bridge that gap.”

Braden Depaulis and Myles Nagles are both in their senior year at Nashwauk-Keewatin High School. The two have been taking classes in the Manufacturing Pathway since 9th grade. Both seniors shared that being a part of the Manufacturing Pathway has been helpful as they think of their plans past high school.

“It gives us a big idea on what we want to do and how you can do it,” Nagler said. “Especially with the teachers we have, and the machines and the equipment we have. The possibilities are endless with them.”

Nagler plans to attend Hibbing Community College (HCC) next year to pursue a career in law enforcement. Depaulis also plans to go to HCC to be a part of the heating and cooling technician program.

“It gives you a big jump on life,” Depaulis said. “It’s just a good experience.”

Both Nagler and Depaulis are currently in Gabardi’s welding class. Earlier this year the class built a trailer and now they are working to build a raised grill with a seating area around it for the high school

“It was a big learning curve for all of us to see what you go through to make something like that,” said Nagler.

The two seniors complimented their teacher, Gabardi, for the work he has done with his classes.

“It really comes down to your teachers too,” said Nagler. “Gabardi has given us so many opportunities on what you can do with this stuff and pushed us to become really successful. His program is definitely unbeatable here.”

Depaulis added, “especially all of the knowledge he has. He just passes that onto us to make us better and smarter.”

Gabardi commented that the program is always looking to add more industry partners to the team and to contact him or Scott Patrow, director of Next Career Pathways, if they would like to get started.

Dan Edwards at Midwest Manufacturing and Mechanical, Inc. knows a lot about the positive outcomes the Career Pathways program can have when partnered with a business. The business first connected with Career Pathways a few years ago with owners Mike Anderson and Mike Stigilich leading the way. Today, Midwest Manufacturing provides paid internships for students in the Manufacturing pathway which can potentially lead to full-time employment.

“I have two people who work here that were in the Career Pathway program and then worked through the summer, and they are continuing to work here,” Edwards shared.

A key element to the success of their internship program is the open line of communication between Gabardi and the business. Edwards shared that Gabardi does a great job staying connected to see what he should be teaching to the students.

Edwards sees this partnership as an opportunity to obtain future employees, but also to let students know of the good jobs that are right here in their backyard.

“Ultimately our goal is to spark interest with the kids in the community to keep them around here and show them that there are rewarding careers in this trade,” Edwards said. He continued, “Our problem around here is we don’t sell this area. It’s a beautiful place to live. You can live here. You can raise a family. I’ve never been unemployed. I went to school for welding and it’s been a great career for me”

Looking ahead to the future of Career Pathways, Edwards hopes that they will continue to advance the program each year to make it better for the students and the community.

“We want to grow with the community. We want a new school. We want the best for our kids and the best for our area,” Edwards stated.

Adam also shared his excitement as the Nashwauk-Keewatin school district voters approved a referendum this week which will invest $47.7 million to build a new school and an attached community wellness center. The new school is set to be built near the O’Brien Reservoir which will open many doors for the Spartan Angling class.

“A class period could be actually going fishing for an hour! Great opportunities await! We are currently working with the wood and metal shop to construct a spear house that will be used for the class and can be placed on O’Brien,” said Adam.

Another goal for Adam is to expand his program to other schools.

“I want to keep producing anglers who are passionate about the outdoors and are pursuing careers in Natural Resources,” Adam stated. “I would love to expand this class to other Iron Range Schools to offer more opportunities.”

Gabardi echoed this sentiment with his vision for the future of Next Career Pathways. He hopes to see schools within the program specializing in different pathways. He explained that each school could focus on one pathway in order to provide the best opportunities for students.

“Nashwauk could become the center of excellence for manufacturing and turn its focus more in the direction of manufacturing,” Gabardi said. “As students build interest through the manufacturing pathway in their home school, then they could travel over to N-K for half days their junior and senior years, and really focus on perfecting that interest. This is something we could accomplish fairly easily, and each school could participate and focus on specific areas.”

Currently, each school offers multiple pathways for its students to be a part of, but focusing on one could potentially save money.

“We all know education can be expensive, especially in the Technology Education areas,” Gabardi said. “By creating centers of excellence, we could focus equipment, training, and business exposures through one spot. It would be a win for both industry partners as well as the students in the pathway.”

The possibilities seem to be endless for Next Career Pathways as schools and business partners all work together to give students an opportunity to find their passions.

“Next career pathways as a whole are offering students the ability to get exposure to different career areas of interest,” Gabardi commented. “We can have students explore areas of interest and have a chance to see if it might be something they truly want to continue to explore. I see our program as an opportunity for students to find areas they are not interested in just as much as areas they are interested in.”