“As we develop students into builders, it is imperative that we also develop students into positive citizens of society… No matter what stage we are at in life, we are all students in some sense or another… Learning opens our eyes to new ideas, allows us to experience new opportunities, and is the essential fuel that helps us reach our highest potential.”

Jessica Bowlin is in her fifth year of teaching the construction program she established at Auburn High School in Auburn, Alabama. Bowlin loves showing the next generation that one does not have to fit a certain mold to be a skilled trades professional.

Growing up on a farm with five brothers in rural Alabama, she learned the importance of exploration and creating projects with anything she could find in a barn. Her family emphasized preparing her for any of life’s challenges and having an independence of spirit, which led her to attending the distinguished IMG Academy in Florida at age 16. Following graduation, Bowlin attended Auburn University, where she graduated with honors from the McWhorter School of Building Science at Auburn University. She also had a four-year soccer career at Auburn.

Bowlin worked at Turner Construction Company, where she oversaw multiple projects with the Self-Perform Industrial Services division. In 2017, she received a call from Auburn High School, asking her to consider establishing a construction program. Due to a deep-rooted passion for learning and love for the trades, she accepted and began preparing for the first day of school that same week.

“Construction and learning are two of my strongest passions, and my hope is that students gain an interest in construction while also developing the desire to learn,” Bowlin said. For Bowlin, learning is fun and when she is most at peace–whether it’s a continuing education course in her free time, a professional development workshop, a podcast, or trying a new skill in the shop.

In her construction program, students learn real-world skills and develop a greater understanding of the practical applications of mathematics, communication, teamwork, and problem-solving that will serve them throughout their lives and prepare them for careers in the skilled trades or postsecondary education. She teaches the NCCER Core Curriculum to break down any student aversions to math by showing them real world applicability and leading them to utilize the Pythagorean Theorem.

The highlight project of the last four years was building the first student-led tiny house in Alabama. The program began construction in October 2018 and celebrated its completion in November 2019. The tiny house was sold to a private buyer in 2020 for $30,000. Over multiple semesters of work, students were exposed to nearly all construction processes involved with a new residence, hosted several public showings, and engaged with local industry and community organizations.

In a short time, Bowlin has hit the ground running in developing partnerships within the community to benefit her current and future students. Major contributors include the Auburn Chamber of Commerce, the Home Builders Association of Alabama, and the Lee County chapter of Professional Women in Building. Current students and alumni are filling positions with companies such as Rabren General Contractors, Southern Blocking LLC, Adams Construction and Associates, Habitat for Humanity, and Homeworks of Alabama. Her program has established a mutually beneficial partnership with Auburn University’s College of Architecture, Design and Construction. Several students attend Auburn University’s Building Science summer camps which allow students to further explore the possibility of pursuing a construction management degree at Auburn University. Among the program graduates, 75 percent are pursuing a field related to the construction industry.

Bowlin previously has won several awards, including Alabama Secondary Teacher of the Year Final Four 2020, Alabama Association of Career & Technical Education (ACTE) New Teacher of the Year 2020, Auburn High School Teacher of the Year 2019-2020, and SkillsUSA Quality Chapter of Distinction 2021.

“As educators, we are the first line of defense within our school system. In some cases, we are the only life-affirming encounter a student will experience in an entire day… We can address this educational crisis in our classrooms by embracing our role as sculptors of young adults, through intentional efforts in establishing an environment where students feel welcome, safe to voice their struggles, and encourage them to live a mentally healthy lifestyle.”