Congratulations 2016 FLATE Awardees!

FLATE and the Florida Association for Career and Technical Education (FACTE) are pleased to
announce the recipients of the 2016 FLATE Awards. The Awards represent FLATE’s efforts to recognize leaders who have been at the forefront of manufacturing, workforce education and training. The Awards program has been in effect since 2007, and is one of FLATE’s flagship efforts to showcase and recognize contributions of educators and industry in advancing technician education and training on a regional and statewide level.

The 2016 FLATE Award recipients are:
  • Elizabeth Simpson, Engineering STEM Academy Lead Teacher at Greco Middle School in Tampa will receive the Distinguished Manufacturing Secondary Educator-of-the-Year Award 
  • Kevin Finan, Machining Instructor at Atlantic Technical College and Technical High School in Coconut Creek will receive the Distinguished Manufacturing Post-Secondary Educator-of-the-Year Award. 
  • Jerry Custin, President, Upper Tampa Bay Manufacturers Association will receive the FLATE Distinguished Partner Manufacturing Service Award 
Prior to the recognition, each Award recipient was interviewed by FLATE. Outlined below is a brief snapshot of the Awardees’ contributions and role in advancing manufacturing education/training in Florida.

Why do you think manufacturing education is important?

Simpson: Manufacturing education is important because it is the driving force in the American economy.

Without knowledge of manufacturing sectors and high skill jobs students will not seek many high paying and rewarding careers they are well suited for. There are multiple trade skill jobs for each job that requires a college degree and those jobs are equally as fulfilling and rewarding in the manufacturing sector.

Manufacturing education is important. As a teacher I try to introduce students to many exciting projects learned that showcases how these processes are directly related to manufacturing. A great example is robotics education. The first type of robot that students learn about in my classroom is an articulated arm hydraulic robot which is programmed using an x,y coordinate plane. This type of technology is exactly like those used in a variety of manufacturing platforms all around the world. Students learn about these real0world robots while exploring their own robot and creating programs. It is very easy to find connections between engineering topics and manufacturing because of the simple fact, without manufacturing nothing in the world would get made, it touches every aspect of our daily lives and should be taught through a course, like the one she teaches, so students learn of the multiple opportunities they have to succeed in life.

Finan: I believe technical education IS NOT vocational training. Manufacturing is a critical
component of this country’s strong economic foundation; thus, a machining classroom/lab should reflect the real work environment through theory and practice-based instruction. Training must connect directly to students’ lives and genuinely engage them to prepare for employment in their career.

My teaching style opens pathways that allow students to accomplish their manufacturing goals. The establishment of a hands-on, real-world component allows my students to understand how manufacturing provides an important, non-exportable service. As a result, a major focus of my program is to develop students’ knowledge and skills that meet industry requirements. Machinists must be accomplished to perform technical tasks. As an instructor I regularly assesses what industry requires for employment and what students need to know to be successful in the field. With the responsibility of being the only program in the county, I am dedicated to my profession and for my students to receive the best instruction possible.
I work closely with the South Florida Manufacturers Association to academically prepare students’ graduation from the District’s first Machining Apprentice program. Apprentices come from different sectors of the manufacturing industry. I ensure the apprentices learn skills that can be translated and applied into many machine types. The best outcome of all my endeavors is that my students/machinists will have higher-paying career opportunities in the future, and that my instructional approach has prepared them to achieve this goal.

Custin: There is a 'gray tsunami' coming in the manufacturing sector with the average age of

skilled workers approaching the mid to late fifties. The manufacturing sector is an important economic driver in the region, state and nation. The recruitment, training, placement and development of a modern manufacturing workforce is a critical element, perhaps the single most critical piece, in maintaining, sustaining and expanding this vital industry sector.

Our students and their parents must be introduced to the challenging and rewarding career opportunities in modern manufacturing at the earliest grades. Basic traits including work ethic, interpersonal relationships and teamwork and the excitement of applying theory to actual production are key elements to triggering the imagination and developing expectations of success. Core cognitive skills including applied mathematics, principles of electronics, basic computer operations and the ability to train other computers to achieve productive results are the major pillars of advanced manufacturing.
The point that modern manufacturing is more driven by brains than brawn, and ingenuity and innovation more than assembly line production is important in adjusting the goals and lesson plans of our educational process. Students must be excited, encouraged and empowered to develop their skills in pursuing their life and career goals. Techniques such as job shadowing, mentoring, on the job work-study, internships, externships (to train the next generation of trainers) and apprenticeships are all important to integrate into the fabric of our educational processes as is academic achievement.

As a Nominee, can you outline some of your contributions to manufacturing and/or engineering technology education and training at local, state and/or national level?
Finan: As an educator I have written and published several articles focused on machining and engineering. These include, among several others, articles in the FLATE Focus newsletter, the Sun Sentinel, a daily publication in Broward County. I have been interviewed by the Florida Department of Transportation, and coordinated several industry tours for my students to include some of the big name manufacturers like MSK Precision, Hoerbiger, Propulsion Technologies International and HEICO.

In 2015, I received the Teacher of the Year Caliber awards. I also played an integral role in several Atlantic Technical College Civic and Community Involvement projects that include: the Apprenticeship Program developed with SFMA; and securing the HAAS Technical Education Centers, Machining Talent Scholarships for ATC students. (

Simpson: At the heart of it all is my classroom, where I am an Engineering Technology teacher who teaches 6th – 8th grade at Greco Middle School. Within those grade levels students learn by doing hands-on, minds-on activities, research projects, and team work. Some of the projects include building earthquake towers, catapults, designing cities of the future, creating CO2 cars, mechanical machines, EV3 Robotics, 3D printing, and underwater robotics.

At the heart of manufacturing education is also participation in Manufacturing Day where students complete a three-day lesson about manufacturing that culminates with a tour of a company in conjunction with national manufacturing day. I have also played a leading role in partnering with FLATE to develop curriculum for Manufacturing Day/Month that is used by educators across Florida. Another important connection is the 8th graders capstone project which involves students developing innovative ideas and through manufacturing, engineering and entrepreneurship brings the idea to life and presents to a group of judges at the end of the school year. At the district level, I have developed curriculum, written course scopes and exams for a variety of middle school and high school Industrial Technology education courses that are taught in Hillsborough County. For many years I have also served as the lead robotics teacher for the FLATE robotics summer camps at HCC teaching EV3 Lego Robotics to middle school students.

Custin: As a leader the local manufacturing community, I have for over ten years been working to identify key issues and challenges faced by small manufacturers and identifying the resources needed to effect change. Over time I have built a relationship base within the regional manufacturing sector as well as the broad array of public sector agencies and organizations that can impact change within the sector. Eventually this culminated in the formation of the Upper Tampa Bay Manufacturers Association as a committee of the Upper Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce and its eventual formation as a separate not-for profit corporation which currently serves over 450 subscribers with a monthly newsletter as well as an educational meeting.

Over the years I have built strategic partnerships with regional educational, economic development, and workforce development community. I have also established inroads among local and state elected officials to develop a common vision and goal for regional manufacturing, as well as changing the underlying delivery systems critical to advancing that effort. I serve on various advisory boards including St. Petersburg College, Hillsborough Community College, the Hillsborough Manufacturing Alliance and the American Skills Initiative program. The Upper Tampa Bay Manufacturing Association has also gained statewide recognition and early this year hosted Governor Scott at his request to meet with a handful of his Board of Directors prior to the 2016 Legislative Session. I also helped organize the Pinellas Chambers Business Delegation to lobby for various initiatives including successfully eliminating the sales tax on manufacturing equipment purchases.

FLATE received a record number of nominations this year. Award winners are selected by the FLATE Industrial Advisory Committee members following a review process, and using a standard rubric to guide their selection from the information that nominees submit. Simpson, Finan and Custin were selected from a pool of distinguished nominees who have each made a mark in manufacturing. We recognize the contributions of each of the nominees and would like to congratulate the winners and the nominees for their role in advancing manufacturing education and training in Florida.

For more information about FLATE Awards visit FACTE’S award page.For more information visit, or contact Dr. Marilyn Barger at

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