Industrial Tech class gives students hands-on learning opportunities


It’s widely recognized that many students learn better in hands-on classes than purely academic studies, and it’s also recognized that in today’s marketplace many of the trades offer high-paying jobs without a lot of student debt needed to gain a four-year degree.

At Otter Valley Union High School, one program that focuses on hands-on learning is Industrial Tech, which used to be called “woodshop.” And, this year, Otter Valley has a new industrial tech teacher.

Devon Karpak’s enthusiasm for introducing students to the joys of working in the trades is obvious to anyone who spends time with him.

“I want the students to feel valued and set up for success, just like the kids going on to four-year colleges,” Karpak said. “It starts here, having a place to express their interests.”

But much like his Industrial Tech class, there is much more to Karpak than working with wood or mechanics.

A man of many interests, Karpak was accepted into medical school out of high school. Originally from Ripton, he graduated from Middlebury Union High School and took diesel tech at a career center, while taking computer science classes at Middlebury College. As an adult, he has been a welder for several different companies building docks, gasification plants and awnings.

Karpak has also has built houses and he’s mechanical enough to rebuild automotive engines. He studied automotive and street rod fabrication at WyoTech before getting his undergrad at UVM in anthropology and chemistry.

Karpak continued at UVM receiving a graduate certificate in Public Health and got his masters from SUNY Oswego in Career and Tech Education. He is currently working toward another masters degree in Technology Education at California University of Pennsylvania.

 Karpak feels that the “shop” is a good place for students to see practical applications of all the math and science they have learned over the years.

“These are valuable skills, it’s what ties all those things together,” the 33-year-old teacher said. “I’m hoping these kids find something that engages their minds, hands and hearts.”

Otter Valley is Karpak’s third school as a primary teacher, having taught at Missisquoi Valley Union in Swanton and Randolph Technical Career Center prior to OV. At OV, he has high hopes the program will grow to include “pretty cool stuff.”

“I’m hoping to engage with the community and find grants to upgrade the tools and lessons, but a lot of the stuff is available for free,” Karpak said, as he showed off a computer-aided drafting program called Google SketchUp. “I want the program to be rooted in woodshop, but to have tie-ins to engineering and expand as grants for STEAM become available.”

Currently, Karpak has 92 kids across four middle school sections and two high school sections. Over the year, the students will learn shop safety, how to measure and cut wood, they’ll build a four-foot wall complete with headers and studding, wiring and sheetrock.

“This is the real world and these are things they will need to know for a future career or being a homeowner,” he said, adding that he encourages students to experiment with new ideas. “It’s a great place to try things and see what works and what doesn’t.”

The students will also complete an independent project where they will eventually launch rockets. They will start with the raw material and take it all the way to a finished project.

Karpak offers students a piece of advice that he says will help them through many of the toughest lessons of the year.

“Don’t give up. Fail quickly, but don’t be afraid to fail,” he said. “Get dirty and find things you love.”

And all the lessons these students will learn would not be available if Otter Valley had given up on “woodshop” in favor of more college preparatory classes.

“Much to the administration’s credit, [woodshop] is still here,” he said. “Career centers are amazing … it’s a great opportunity for these kids to learn skills that will help them no matter what they go on to do.”

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