Veteran tech-ed instructor wins national award

Mentor: Gary Rabe is Harford's first teacher to win the honor.


October 24, 2004|By Anne Lauren Henslee | Anne Lauren Henslee,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

While some teachers rarely see their efforts come to fruition, Gary Rabe sees many of his former students return to the classroom each year as guest lecturers to teach about life after high school. They come back, they say, to do what Rabe does best - inspire others to follow their dreams.

Rabe, who has taught technology courses and mentored students at C. Milton Wright High School in Bel Air for 23 years, is Harford County's first recipient of national honorary society Iota Lambda Sigma's Distinguished Teacher Award, which he received in August. Several of his students, whose names were kept confidential according to the organization's rules, nominated him for the award.

"If anyone deserves an award, it's him," said former student Kristen Dobart, a junior at the Johns Hopkins University. "Mr. Rabe helps students realize that they are capable of so much more than they ever imagined. He goes above and beyond his teaching duties, always being available for students before and after school, and devoting his time and interest to students' independent projects."

Rabe first taught Dobart during her junior year, in what proved to be a pivotal class. "If I hadn't been placed in his class for a mandatory tech-ed requirement, I probably never would have taken architecture or engineering graphics, and I probably wouldn't be majoring in electrical engineering right now," said Dobart. "So, speaking broadly, Mr. Rabe has affected the outcome of the rest of my life, in what I think is a very positive way."

"Mr. Rabe is definitely one of my role models for what a good teacher should be and for what I hope to be like as a teacher, myself, one day," added Bryce Cramer, another of Rabe's students and a mathematics major at University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

On his days off from school, Cramer substitutes as a technology-education instructor at his alma mater and often sees Rabe, whom he considers a mentor. Upon graduation next year, he hopes to teach mathematics at the high school level.

Rabe estimates that he has helped several hundred former students find careers in technological fields such as architecture and engineering. Rick Sickenberger is one of those students.

"Everybody who has ever taken any of his classes has always come out with an increased vision of the engineering field," said Sickenberger, a senior majoring in aerospace engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla. "I cannot say enough about Mr. Rabe and his impact on my engineering education," he said.

Rabe's continuing support and encouragement are as much a part of his teaching as is his high-tech curriculum. "Impossible was not in his vocabulary," said Sickenberger. "Not for one second did Mr. Rabe doubt my dreams or capabilities in applying to such prestigious universities or endeavoring to accomplish any of my far-out goals."

Sickenberger, who has worked the past three summers at Aberdeen Proving Ground in a student-contractor position as a design and analysis engineer, regularly exchanges e-mails with Rabe and is one of several former students who return to Rabe's class to talk to students about college and careers in engineering or related fields.


For nearly 20 years, Rabe has sponsored students in the Maryland Engineering Challenges, where two of his students received honorable mentions. Of those two, Rabe said, one is attending medical school at Hopkins and the other recently graduated from the Naval Academy.

Rabe also started a local chapter of the Student Technology Association, which sponsors state and national competitions in architectural modeling, imaging technology, technical research and writing, technological systems and transportation modeling.

Competitions, he said, are a way for his students to learn more about what is going on in the field of technology and to meet professionals in the field.

"We've had nine students make it to the international level at the Maryland Bridge-Building Challenge," Rabe said. "That gets them exposure to professional engineers and people outside of the community, where they can make contacts for their own future."

Career path

Rabe discovered his career path while enrolled in the teaching program at State University of New York at Buffalo. He became "enthralled" with the newly emerging field of technology education. His mentor, a family friend and SUNY's dean of chemistry, encouraged him to pursue a career in engineering, but Rabe was hooked. He wanted to teach.

He taught for five years in other Harford County public schools before joining C. Milton in 1981, one year after the school's inception.

"Over the years, especially in the last decade and a half, technology education has changed a lot. It has moved from the old industrial arts woodshop to much more of an area where we're trying to teach kids how to apply mathematics and science," explained school Principal William Ekey.

"Gary has been a real advocate to make sure that courses in that area do just that. He has done a superb job in bringing classes like architectural drafting and engineering graphics as far as you can take them, to make sure kids are applying the math and science that they know," Ekey said.

Rewarding job

Teaching, said Rabe, while not the most lucrative career choice, has been most rewarding.

"It gives me an opportunity to see my own children grow up," said the father of two daughters, ages 20 and 23. "I don't have the hour-and-a-half commute. I don't have to fight city traffic. And it gives me more time to do the things I like to do, such as gardening, designing things, woodworking and refinishing, building stereo speakers and taking care of our three cats."

And, he added, he enjoys his job. "I'm very lucky. I have really good kids to work with, and it's fun."

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