“Machining is an adventure; with each new skill the student learns they can explore further. In the first week in the program the students are using tools. I remember as a student many years ago that this makes technical trade programs unique and fun. Learning by doing is the best way to truly understand and master a process.”

Coming from a family of educators in Ireland and England, Kevin Finan teaches machining at Atlantic Technical College & Technical High School in Coconut Creek, Florida. Finan cites attending a technical high school in Ireland as one of the best decisions he ever made, because this type of education would be the cornerstone of his entire career. Following high school, Finan completed a four-year trade apprentice program, where he studied and worked in both Ireland and Berlin, Germany. Upon completion, Finan immigrated to the United States, working as a machinist in New York and Florida. Training his co-workers inspired him to enter teaching, so he returned to college, obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics education from Broward College. He has been teaching ever since.

Finan loves being a trades teacher because he sees himself in all the students in his machining program, and knows the skills they learn in his machining class will help them fulfill their potential. In his first year, Finan sought to tackle the stigma around the trades by first addressing the classroom’s physical appearance and involving his students as a team. Says Finan, “The transformation of the physical classroom was amazing, but the main goal was to have student involvement in the process.” They installed new wooden floors, ordered new desks and chairs, and repainted the classroom, signaling the importance of the learning to take place in the space.

The curriculum in Finan’s classroom is heavily project-based and hands-on. Students start with basic tools, move to manual mills and lathes, then utilize CNC machine tools in a step-by-step process, all while covering theory. All students must complete twelve hands-on individual projects, along with group projects and service projects around school. They earn multiple certifications, including National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS), Mastercam, Solidworks, Six Sigma, and Haas CNC Mill. Students see manufacturing careers first-hand during field trips to local manufacturing companies, including Lockheed Martin, Baker-Hill, and Disney Central Shops. His program hosts an annual “Manufacturing Days” event, inviting local schools and companies into the classroom, where students give them a tour of the program and discuss careers in machining and other trades. Several years ago, the city of Coconut Creek needed to remake its logo; one of Finian’s students designed it. Finan works closely with his industry advisory committee–composed of local manufacturing companies that hire his graduates–to compose his program’s framework.

Students have the opportunity to take two pathways into the manufacturing industry after graduation. Some go directly into their career through Finan’s “Linking Students to Industry” program, where employers engage with students and interview them on the shop floor to be hired directly. Others enter a four-year engineering college pathway, where they begin their college education with the advantage of hands-on machining experience. In the summer before college, many students are placed with a local engineering or manufacturing company, and some return to work there during subsequent summer breaks.

Finan has obtained multiple industry certifications in NIMS, Mastercam, Solidworks, and Six Sigma, and was named Teacher of the Year at his school in 2014-2015. He was previously a finalist for the 2021 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence.

“I love being a trade teacher in that we often get students who are very smart but for varied reasons struggle in their academic classes. The student cannot totally explain it, but they get machining and thrive in the machining program. It is just such a pleasure to see students joyfully excelling in class.”