“I had a teacher and coach that changed the course my life would take. My high school wrestling coach, Dick Werschke was also a Calculus teacher. He is a second father to me. I saw the effort and love that he put into his teaching and coaching and was inspired to follow in his footsteps.

As a child, Chris Mollkoy struggled in school due to dyslexia and attention deficit disorder. He credits his high school calculus teacher and wrestling coach with inspiring him to a career in education. Despite his learning difficulties, Mollkoy became the first in his family to graduate from college, earning a bachelor’s degree in English and a teaching credential from the University of California, Davis.

After teaching English and coaching wrestling for seven years, Mollkoy switched careers to avoid burnout. Wanting to work with his hands, Mollkoy started out as a laborer before obtaining a contractor’s license and launching his own carpentry company. When he returned to teaching, it was as an industrial arts educator.

“What I love most about being a construction technology teacher is watching the light turn on for students,” Mollkoy wrote in his prizewinning application, “I love seeing their confidence grow exponentially, and the satisfaction on their faces when they finish a project they are proud of.”

Today, Mollkoy teaches more than 200 students annually, and another 100 students attend his summer woodworking camps. His program is in the building and trades industry sector pathway, established by the California Department of Education and designed to guide students into in-demand construction careers.

In the classroom, Mollkoy engages students with hands-on projects that are variations on a theme—beginner students will build a cutting board to exact specifications, intermediate students choose their materials and size, and advanced students design in 3-D. Students showcase their work annually for their community and build a tiny home each year, often donating it to local nonprofits. Mollkoy works closely with organizations like Tradart, a career development and workplace preparation nonprofit, and Partners in Education, which helps secure paid internships for disadvantaged students. His students also pursue community service projects, including rebuilding hiking trail signs that were lost in a wildfire. In 2018, Mollkoy received the Marvin Melvin Award, given to the Santa Barbara County Department of Education’s career and technical education teacher of the year.

“What I love most about being a construction technology teacher is watching the light turn on for students…. The confidence they feel in my class also carries over to other aspects of the skilled trades and beyond.”