STEM School Highlands Ranch Teacher Earns $100,000 Grand Prize from Harbor Freight

Shallenberger Award Photo

DENVER, Colo. (Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020) – STEM School Highlands Ranch Engineering Teacher Mike Shallenberger was chosen as one-of-three $100,000 Grand Prize winners of the 2020 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence. One of the other winners was Brian Manley, who teaches automotive technology at Cherry Creek Innovation Campus.

“This is such an amazing honor,” Shallenberger said. “I absolutely believe in the program that we are building at STEM. Getting students access to engineering and mechatronics is crucial in preparing them for real-world, impactful careers that are relevant now.”

Shallenberger was surprised at his home on Wednesday afternoon with a check for $100,000 and a personalized tool box from US General. Of the $100,000 award money, $70,000 will be given to STEM School Highlands Ranch’s skilled trades programs. $30,000 of the award money will go to Shallenberger himself. Out of a pool of 600 applicants, Shallenberger, along with two others, were chosen for this national grand prize.

“We could not be more proud of Mike’s program at STEM and all that he’s done for our students,” said Dr Penny Eucker, STEM School Highlands Ranch Executive Director. “He is a visionary and we are so lucky to have him.”

In total, Harbor Freight Tools for Schools is awarding $1 million in prizes to 18 skilled trades teachers nationwide. The full list of winners will be announced on Thursday, Oct. 15.

About Grand Prize Winner Mike Shallenberger / STEM School Highlands Ranch

Shallenberger is an engineering teacher at STEM School Highlands Ranch in Highlands Ranch, Colo. Shallenberger, a 21-year veteran teacher, discovered a passion for repairing and creating while working as property staff at a youth camp after his high school graduation. Today, 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. His students have the opportunity to earn their associate’s degree, tuition-free, while still in high school. Students also leave prepared to earn industry certifications in robotics, programming, mechatronics and mechanical design.

About the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence

The Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence was started in 2017 by Eric Smidt, the founder of national tool retailer Harbor Freight Tools, to recognize outstanding instruction in the skilled trades in U.S. public high schools and the teachers who inspire students to learn skills to prepare for life after

graduation. As recent research from JFF (formerly known as Jobs for the Future) and funded by Harbor Freight Tools for Schools found, students who “concentrate” (or take multiple trades courses as part of a program) are more likely to graduate than their peers. Upon graduation, students are prepared for either further education or work in HARBOR FREIGHT TOOLS FOR SCHOOLS 26541 Agoura Road Calabasas, Calif., 91302 fields that routinely rank among the hardest jobs to fill and that have come to be widely recognized as “essential” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 2020 prize drew more than 600 applications from 48 states and included three rounds of judging, each by an independent panel of experts from industry, education, trades, philanthropy and civic leadership. The application process, which included responses to questions and a series of learning modules, was designed to solicit each teacher’s experience, insights and creative ideas about their approach to teaching and success in helping their students achieve excellence in the skilled trades. All learning modules are available here. In July, the field was narrowed to 50 finalists. The 32 finalists who are not being named winners will receive $1,000 gift cards from Harbor Freight Tools. Additionally, given the challenges teachers are facing due to COVID-19, teachers who applied for the prize but did not advance to become finalists were eligible to receive $100 gift cards from Harbor Freight Tools.

About Harbor Freight Tools for Schools

Harbor Freight Tools for Schools is a program of The Smidt Foundation, established by Harbor Freight Tools founder Eric Smidt, to advance excellent skilled trades education in public high schools across America. With a deep respect for the dignity of these fields and for the intelligence and creativity of people who work with their hands, Harbor Freight Tools for Schools aims to drive a greater understanding of and investment in skilled trades education, believing that access to quality skilled trades education gives high school students pathways to graduation, opportunity, good jobs and a workforce our country needs. Harbor Freight Tools is a major supporter of the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools program. For more information, visit

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