Previous Winners

Meet a Few of the 2023 Winners

John Alvarez

Construction Careers Academy
San Antonio, TX
“It's my passion to make a difference in the lives of students through teaching and shining a light on plumbing, a trade that historically has been viewed as dirty work. I'm determined to show my students how it can be an opportunity for economic mobility and personal growth, which is something I learned firsthand while running my own business. Every day presents me with another chance to empower those around me by imparting the knowledge they wouldn't find anywhere else; seeing their success come full circle gives meaning to theirs and mine.”

John Alvarez is a plumbing instructor at Construction Careers Academy in San Antonio, Texas, where he was born and raised. While in a plumbing apprenticeship, he discovered joy in troubleshooting, problem solving, and envisioning a successful final product while earning a healthy wage. It was a defining moment for Alvarez in transforming his negative perception of the trade into a determination to portray plumbing in a positive light. Alvarez, a first-generation college student, earned a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Texas at San Antonio and a State of Texas Master Plumbing License – as of 2023, he is the only master plumber teacher in San Antonio. He also has an inspector license and coaches several sports teams.

Alvarez emphasizes hands-on learning in his program, beginning with his sophomores in Plumbing Tech I to his seniors in the Practicum in Construction Plumbing. His students learn how to design and install underground and above ground piping, sinks, toilets, showers, and water heaters. His shop includes real-life stations where students explore all three phases that make up a plumbing system. Students then apply their skills to projects like designing plumbing for the carpentry program’s tiny house builds, and they work in teams to interpret blueprints, select materials, and install fully functioning plumbing systems. Their work is permitted and inspected by the City of San Antonio, and students are able to showcase their skills and craftsmanship with family, friends, and the local community during the Tiny Home Showcase event. The houses are fully functional and ready for move-in, and the money raised from the showcase event is used to help fund the next year’s build.

Students also have the chance to earn their Tradesman Limited plumbing license upon graduation through a pathway approved by the Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners, designed to help address the shortage of skilled and licensed plumbers in Texas. All students who complete the course will test for their license, which positions them to begin working immediately in well-paid positions. Alvarez believes that expanding plumbing training programs can provide young people with valuable skills, help address workforce shortages, fix negative stigmas, and ensure that communities have access to safe and reliable plumbing services.

Through both technical instruction and an emphasis on leadership and community, Alvarez strives to prepare his students to be responsible and contributing citizens. During a Texas winter storm, one of his sophomores fixed a burst pipe at her family’s home, assessing the situation, buying the parts, and completing the installation – and ensuring access to running water during a crucial time. A former student reflected that the most valuable lesson from the class was the importance of access to clean water, which stayed with them long after high school and helped them appreciate the privilege of living where clean water is readily available. These real-life experiences inspire Alvarez and make him proud to be training the next generation of plumbers.

“What I love most is seeing the transformation that takes place in my students. Witnessing their personal growth as they journey through the ups and downs, the pains and gains, of acquiring new skills and knowledge is a truly incredible experience. It fills me with pride and joy to see each student have their own unique 'a-ha' moment when they finally fully understand how the lessons apply to their own lives--this connection to self is crucial to their success.”

Jodie Melancon

Agricultural Mechanics
Avoyelles High School
Moreauville, LA
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“My students identify the positives in each other's work and offer suggestions for improvement when necessary. I believe a major part of my job is to prepare my students to become model, productive, contributing members of society who can work well with others in the spirit of teamwork.”

Jodie Melancon teaches agricultural mechanics at Avoyelles High School in Moreauville, Louisiana – a calling she was deeply drawn to in 2011 after spending many years teaching part-time while also being self-employed. Having previously received her bachelor’s degree in vocational agricultural education, she returned to LSU 20 years later to regain her teacher certification while earning a Master’s Degree. She was offered the agriculture teacher position at Avoyelles High School, and to prepare for the school’s ag-mechanics focus, Melancon took welding classes at night and earned National Center for Construction Education & Research (NCCER) certifications in Welding I and Carpentry I and II.

Melancon focuses on helping her students earn industry-based certifications and preparing them to enter the workforce directly after high school with skills that will earn them high wages. Using NCCER Core, Carpentry, and Welding curricula, she ensures her students learn in a classroom and shop environment that mimics the construction industry. Students participate in stringent safety training and are also tasked with keeping the shop clean and running up to OSHA regulations. Upperclassmen serve as safety officers and guide new students through complex processes, such as modeling how to use a circular saw to cut stair stringers.

Melancon regularly pairs more experienced students with those who need more guidance, encouraging leadership and teamwork. She also encourages problem-solving inside and outside the classroom. Earlier this school year, her students were called upon to fix the flagpole on the softball field, which needed to be ready for a tournament that weekend. Her carpentry class assessed the situation and were able to string a new rope and right the flagpole in time for the games to begin. Safety is a priority in her classroom; student “Safety Trainee Officers” perform safety checks such as inspecting tools to make sure they are safe for use and ensuring the area is free of debris and clutter.

Melancon’s instruction has had a profound impact on her students: in 11 years, 251 students have earned NCCER Core Certifications, 98 have earned NCCER Carpentry I Certifications, and 149 have earned Welder’s Helper status. Many have construction job offers before they graduate from high school. One of her former students, now a Blackhawk Pilot in the Louisiana National Guard and a diesel mechanic, learned welding in Melancon’s class and earned his certification. Currently, he is the only employee in his shop who can weld and is often called upon to do so. Melancon’s current students are also finding success while competing in FFA Carpentry and Welding contests – which helps them realize they have the necessary skills to compete, and helps build their confidence and self-esteem for the future.

Melancon has been recognized in both her school and parish school district as High School Teacher of the Year.

“I believe students have an unlimited potential to learn when they are placed in a nurturing learning environment where they feel safe, valued, and wanted.”


David Barresi

Frankfort High School
Frankfort, MI
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“My greatest joy is to help a student discover their own innate abilities and creativity. Students need alternative ways to learn through hands-on experiences found in project-based learning. By implementing multiple learning modalities and providing scaffolded instruction, the resultant skills can serve them well, whatever they choose to do.”

Grateful for the accomplished instructors who have influenced his own nearly four decades of teaching, David Barresi is a woodworking teacher at Frankfort High School in Frankfort, Michigan. While an instructor in Fine and Creative Woodworking at Rockingham Community College, Barresi was honored as “Teacher of the Year” His former program at Bellaire High School received the “Program of Quality Award” from Michigan Industrial Technology Education Society (MITES). Earlier this spring, Barresi was honored by MITES with the Paul Schilling Distinguished Service Award, given to those who make “significant contributions to promote the goals and objectives of industrial and technology education through service to the society”. Barresi’s students have won five state level MITES competitions, and have taken first place four times at the Association of Woodworkers and Furniture Suppliers (AWFS) in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Barresi teaches multiple woodworking skills including furniture making, cabinet making and wood manufacturing. His classroom simulates an ongoing work environment, so students learn not only hands-on wood skills, but also key professionalism and management skills. Students fill out a timecard, which serves as a legitimate record of daily student accomplishments and production progress reports. An individual’s time card has specific categories and encourages the student to examine work productivity closely. Barresi focuses on instilling good communication skills and a strong work ethic and shares from his own personal and professional experiences to coach students. He embeds their projects with practical math and writing opportunities, but also illustrates the profit and financial value of the skills they are learning to emphasize that one does not need to strive for a college degree to achieve a successful and satisfying career.

The culture in his class is based upon cooperative learning and a hierarchy of knowledge. Students of differing experience levels are included in every class. In any classroom, students may be a facilities manager, a shop foreman, an experienced student or a beginning student. As a student progresses through the series of classes, they continuously build upon their previous knowledge, becoming more sophisticated while being given more responsibility. Students create all visual and written documentation relating to their projects.

Barresi utilizes a multifaceted learning process for students of all experience levels to go through all of the processes from preliminary concept of the product to the sale of the product. He provides full-size visual models, adequate class time for process demonstrations and written step-by-step instructions. Students create their own samples and for every product they work on; they create a scale drawing, a parts list, estimate costs, and complete a retail price worksheet, production timeline, and general procedures for them to explore and discover. If students struggle and have questions, they have a variety of options to turn to for assistance and Barresi uses the Socratic method so the class can learn and work together to find solutions. There are different roles and responsibilities for every department, and they collaborate to track their work process and costs and modify the production process in order to remain on time and profitable.

Barresi believes that the most valuable lesson he hopes to teach his students is to be accountable for the quality of one’s work. This accountability includes time management, organizing and monitoring work production, and thoughtful self-evaluation. To nurture autonomy and confidence in setting goals, students self-evaluate their own work with the use of a written rubric. He uses qualitative and quantitative assessments to help individuals utilize the collected data and the self-assessment of their work practices, so that he can individualize each student’s instruction and determine the amount of intervention necessary for the student to be successful and create customized plans moving forward.

At the end of the year, Barresi’s program participates in a school-wide “extravaganza” displaying students’ work, participates in multiple furniture shows/competitions and donates several furniture pieces to their annual fundraiser. This event gains media coverage so that the community can see how the student-centered program develops the skilled trades workforce and entrepreneurs for the future.

Barresi is an accomplished woodworker and furniture designer. He formed the Artisan Design Network, a group of regional craftsmen, and has had his pieces published in Fine Woodworking Design Book Three: 558 Photographs of the Best Work in Wood (1983), 397 Chairs (1988), 500 Chairs: Celebrating Traditional and Innovative Designs (1998), and Mind and Hand Contemporary Studio Furniture (2012). The most recent publication of American Woodworking and Furnishing Show (AWFS) Fresh Wood Design Book (2022) features the work of three of his students, and Barresi notes that he is “humbled that [his] teaching legacy lives on through my students and their extraordinary accomplishments”.

“Major educational reforms must emphasize and enhance career readiness and vocational enrichment within all secondary education programs. Not only do we need to provide opportunities for all students, but from a societal need, we have to address the income disparity and vanishing skilled labor force. At this time, five tradesmen are retiring as one new tradesmen comes into the profession.”