Top Influencers in Career and Technical Education Recognized with Top Tech Awards



Greg Middlesworth, Director of Operations at Curt G. Joa, Inc., addressed the audience at the Top Tech Award Banquet at the Lakeshore Culinary Institute.


Lakeshore Technical College presented their  3rd annual awards Top Tech Awards to recognize the top influencers in career and technical education in Manitowoc and Sheboygan counties.  The five awards were presented at a reception at the Lakeshore Culinary Institute on February 4th.


February is Career and Technical Education (CTE) Month. More than 87,000 of Wisconsin's high school students are taking CTE courses, which is over two thirds of Wisconsin's high school population. Areas of study stretch across a variety of disciplines, such as health occupations, manufacturing, technology and engineering, agriculture, and business. By using academic and career plans, students are able to align their coursework to their career or college aspirations.


"CTE Month highlights innovative, school-to-work programs and career opportunities for high school students who attend technical college for short-term training or a two-year degree," says Kelli Grasse, LTC Career and Technical Education Manager. "Through dual enrollment programs like Transcripted Credit and Youth Apprenticeship, Wisconsin's technical colleges, the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, and local businesses have partnered to expand CTE opportunities for students to allow high school students to work in paid positions where they can earn high school credits, industry certifications, and valuable work experience."


Educators and businesses from Sheboygan County were recognized with three of the awards.


Teacher Mary Leonhard of Sheboygan Central High School was the first recipient. Leonhard is a trail blazer in the development of the Early College program at Central High School that allows high school seniors to spend class time earning college credit at Lakeshore Technical College. 


She has grown Central High's Early College program from its inception, and Early College options for their students include Welding, Customer Service, Early Childhood Education, Dietary, Nursing Assistant, and Culinary.  As a result of this program, 65% of students who began attending Central High School as freshmen earned college credit while still in high school.


Leonhard was also recognized for her dedication to the Project GRILL program at Central.  In addition to working with Early College students all day, she is also willing to give her time in the evenings to drives the six students members of the Project GRILL team to LTC to build custom barbecue grills. Students learn valuable skills in problem solving, leadership, manufacturing plus math and science through Project GRILL.


"The fact that students spend seven hours a day in class and then willingly spend four more with me on weeknight tells you a lot about Project GRILL," said Leonhard. "Receiving this award is truly an honor." 


For the first time, businesses were recognized as Top Tech Award winners. As a peer nominated program, the Top Tech Awards were initially developed to recognize educators but Plymouth High School knew that local business were making a difference in career and technical education as well.


Curt G. Joa Company in Sheboygan Falls has been a great business partner to Plymouth High School. They saw an opportunity to improve instruction and give insight to curriculum in the area of Technology Education and Engineering. Joa offered instructor training through summer employment to help instructors gain better insight of what is expected of students going into industry. They also offered students an opportunity to work on industry standard parts to reinforce curriculum and give students real world experience. Curt Joa Company has also gone out of their way to help with curriculum and instruction by offering consulting on problems encountered during course instruction and by providing assistance with tooling selection and ordering.


Joa also improves Career and Technical Education in Sheboygan County as an active member of the Sheboygan County Economic Development Association as well as Inspire Sheboygan County. They are also active in the Sheboygan County Project GRILL program and the Lakeshore Technical College Youth Apprentice Program. 


"Plymouth High School CTE teachers Greg Gritt and Jake Sherman gave up their summers a couple years ago to work at Joa and learn on the floor," said Director of Operations Greg Middlesworth of Curt Joa. "That really got our partnership going and they deserve a lot of credit." 


The final Top Tech Award for the evening honored Louie Gentine of Sargento in Plymouth for his efforts in all of Sheboygan County, both as CEO of Sargento and as President of the Sheboygan County Chamber of Commerce. 


Gentine is a strong advocate for career and technical education and for business and education partnerships.  Gentine and Sargento have supported the Plymouth School District in developing the LTC-Plymouth Science & Technology Center and the proposed Plymouth Food Science & Agriculture Center-two extensive building and curriculum projects that serve Plymouth Joint School District, the Plymouth Community, and the greater Sheboygan County area.  Additionally, Gentine selected business-education partnerships as a Chamber initiative because the partnerships between businesses and schools pay huge dividends to economic growth well into the future.


"Louie Gentine does these things only because it is the right thing to do and certainly he learned that from his father and grandfather," said Bill Bartnik, Director of Manufacturing at Sargento who accepted the award on Louie Gentine's behalf. "The employees we need for tomorrow can't happen without educators and we need to continue to partner with education to find tomorrow's leaders."


A panel of students also shared their stories of success of dual credit learning through career and technical education.   Career and Technical Education prepares people for specific trades, crafts and careers or a professional position in fields such as engineering, accounting, nursing, health, and agriculture as well as many other fields. 


About Lakeshore Technical College

Each year more than 10,000 people enroll in courses at Lakeshore Technical College. They rely on LTC for job preparation, to earn a degree, upgrade a specialized skill, train as an apprentice, or seek a high school equivalency. LTC faculty and staff meet students where they are in life and help them get one step closer to achieving their goals.

LTC is a nationally recognized technical college. The college was ranked the #2 two-year college in the nation for adult learners by Washington Monthly, the #17 trade school in the nation by Forbes, #11 in the nation for two-year college educational outcomes by, a top-150 two-year college for the fifth consecutive time by the Aspen Institute, and a top 10 Bellwether Award finalist.

Approximately 800 students graduate from LTC each year, and LTC’s associate degree graduates earn a median salary of $47,800* per year. In addition to the Cleveland campus, LTC serves students in Manitowoc and Sheboygan, and offers classes at additional sites throughout the district. Visit LTC at

*Source: 2019 LTC Graduate Outcomes report, 795 graduates contacted to complete the survey; 508 graduates or 64% completed the survey.

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