Hampshire industrial tech teacher prepares students for real world

Hampshire industrial technology teacher makes sure students are ready for real world

Mike Jakubowski has always been a handyman — and a hands-on learner.

He never liked reading, but he figured out how to use the jigsaw his dad gave him when he was 10 years old. When he was a sophomore in high school, he built the deck on the back of his family's house almost entirely by himself. As a senior, he remodeled his basement.

Jakubowski only took one yearlong metals shop class in high school, but he breezed through the curriculum in a single semester. His teacher started coming up with additional challenges for Jakubowski: a spiral staircase, a boat trailer, a trailer for a car.

“I just liked to build stuff and make stuff,” Jakubowski said, but he didn't think anything of his talent at the time. He wanted to be a lawyer, never imagining that he would one day own his own construction company for 18 years.

He especially couldn't have predicted that he'd eventually earn a master's degree in workforce education and development from Southern Illinois University and, later, teach high school students how to use the skills that he has excelled in his entire life.

Now, Jakubowski, a Pingree Grove resident, is in his 12th year teaching various industrial technology classes at Hampshire High School, including wood shop, computer-aided design and, most recently, advanced manufacturing, which is in its first year as part of the Community Unit District 300 Pathway Programs. Eventually, the course will evolve into a three-year program.

The Pathway Programs are designed to provide students with real-world experience and credentials that may help to set them apart from other job applicants after graduation. The district's other programs include computer science and business incubator pathways.

“(Jakubowski) spent a lot of time learning about and installing new machinery for this new class,” said Hampshire High School Principal Brett Bending. “In turn, now we're getting our kids to work with these machines and design products that they want these machines to produce. It's really astounding.”

The additional work is worth it, Jakubowski said, as the industrial technology classes allow students to gain skills — and even some certification — for the real world. Several students end up going to college for engineering or manufacturing, and many go to trade school or straight into the workforce.

“Our whole program is job training,” Jakubowski said. “If I'm not teaching them something useful for when they leave here, I'm not doing my job.”

Preparing his students for a career in the field, however, takes a different teaching style than what many students are used to, he said.

Instead of lecturing the high schoolers how to use a tool or piece of machinery, Jakubowski has taken a hands-on approach. To get students comfortable with using various measuring tools, for example, Jakubowski set up stations and had them try out each one, write down their findings and turn in a work sheet by the end of the 45-minute class.

“I would rather be in this shop and show you how to do something than have you read about it,” he said. “It's a completely different experience.”

Those methods bode well for 15-year-old freshman Andrew Krajecki, who is hoping to pursue a degree and career in mechanical engineering.

“Since we're all in this class because we really want to be here, Mr. J. has our attention all the time,” he said. “He's very instructive, very detailed and really smart.”

Senior Michael Bowen, 17, added that Jakubowski's personality — relaxed and easy to talk to with a dry sense of humor — helps him connect with the students.

But Jakubowski's work doesn't end when the last bell rings. Senior Nick See, 18, said he is always willing to stick around after school or during his free periods to give them an opportunity to continue learning.

In the past, See added, Jakubowski has even volunteered to make signs and equipment for the baseball fields, sets for school plays and signs for homecoming and prom.

“He's always willing to stay after school or class to work with you and help you through anything,” See said. “He can explain things in laymen's terms and can make someone who's never taken these classes before understand it.”

Jakubowski's work ethic, he said, stems from the first construction job he got while working toward a bachelor's degree in economics at Northern Illinois University. There, he was taught that “there's always something to do” — a mindset that helped him when he worked 12-hour days at his own construction company.

The extra work and long hours don't faze Jakubowski, who often stays after school until well past dinnertime to help his students or prepare for the next day.

“I can't let a kid leave here and not understand how to operate his construction tools because that's what he's going to do for a living,” Jakubowski said. “I've got to stay until the job's done. That's why I'm here.”

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Tips from a great teacher: Mike Jakubowski

  Mike Jakubowski helps a student at a workstation at Hampshire High School. Brian Hill/
  Mike Jakubowski shares a laugh with some of his advanced manufacturing students at Hampshire High School. Brian Hill/
  Mike Jakubowski shows a student how to use a construction tool during a recent advanced manufacturing class at Hampshire High School. Brian Hill/
  Mike Jakubowski explains to one of his students how to use a specific measuring device during an advanced manufacturing class at Hampshire High School. Brian Hill/

Curriculum vitae: Mike Jakubowski

<b>Education</b>• Northern Illinois University: bachelor of science degree in economics

• Southern Illinois University: master's degree in workforce education and development

<b>Work experience</b>• Owner of JMC Company, a custom design builder of homes and renovations, for 18 years

• Industrial Technology instructor at Hampshire High School (2003 to present)

• Currently teaches various levels of wood shop, computer-aided design, pre-engineering computer-aided design and advanced manufacturing

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