Q&A: ABYC Foundation’s 2023 Educator of the Year | Boating Industry

May 3, 2024
By Sarah Devlin
Accreditation Director, ABYC Foundation

Fowler-ABYC-Educator

Freddie Fowler 

The American Boat & Yacht Council (ABYC) Foundation has been looking to schools that provide Marine Service Technology programs as a means to fill the labor gap in the boat building and repair industry. One initiative is to highlight the educators who have made an impact on students and industry with an annual Educator of the Year award. The Foundation receives multiple nominations, vetted through various ABYC staff and industry stakeholders.

This year, the honor goes to Freddie Fowler of Manatee Technical College (MTC) in Bradenton, Fla. We caught up with Fowler via email. 

ABYC Foundation: How did you end up teaching marine service technology?

Freddie Fowler: While I was working for Yellowfin, my former instructor and mentor Kelly Ewing (Prior MTC Marine Services Technology Instructor, Retired) informed me that a part-time position was available at MTC.  I applied and the rest was history.

ABYC: What is most rewarding about teaching these students?

FF: Seeing students who struggled at the beginning of the program become confident in their abilities to work on boats and start a successful career.  I enjoy working side-by-side with students on issues that arise while working on a project to instill confidence in them to know they can find solutions.

ABYC: Can you talk a bit about your relationship with the marine industry as a whole—how do you engage folks who work in the industry with your students and graduates?

FF: I like this question, because it’s extremely important for our industry, advisory, and business partners to understand how to engage and work with the technical schools that have marine service programs. Now, not all marine programs are the same and I don’t want our program to be the same because I want to do something that has never been done before.

My approach to industry leaders is to get involved with the tech schools. Most industry partners look at me funny when I say this: “Come see our program for yourself and speak to our students. You don’t want to hear it from me; you want to hear it from the students. See our classroom, what we are currently accomplishing, and what the program is progressing too. I’m not asking for money, nor do I need or want donations; what I want is your advice and involvement.” Advisory input is more important to the program, curriculum, and students. It keeps us in check. Also, keep in mind I never look at our program as mine. It belongs to our industry, and we need businesses to ensure we are teaching the correct information and current technology. The marine industry evolves and changes so fast, so their involvement is crucial.

I believe we are doing something different here at MTC and I hope that other technical schools and the entire industry take notice.

ABYC: Have students changed much over the years, and in what way? How do you work with students who struggle with the work?

FF: I’ve only been an instructor for two and half years, so I haven’t seen much change in students.   Now, our numbers have increased because I believe what we are doing at MTC, teaching the “total boat concept,” is making a difference and the community is seeing that. 

What has changed is technology in the industry. People are wanting to have the same amenities in their boats as they do in their cars and homes. So, the days of just working on motors is over. The new technician needs to understand the boat from front to back. We teach our students from the ground up, which gives them a firm foundation that can be built upon as we move into more complex topics such as engine diagnostics and repair, electronics installation, network installation, and electrical install and troubleshooting. Not only does this program provide a firm foundation for students, but it also prepares them for the future.

ABYC: What are some principles you instill in your students?

FF: I tell my students “I’m training my replacement every day” I come into work.

We are not in the business of doing guesswork. Your certification, reputation, and people’s lives depend on it.

Never stop learning and listening.

Most importantly: “Read the Manual!”

Freddie Fowler Teacher of the Year
Freddie Fowler Teacher of the Year

ABYC: Do you want to give any shoutouts to team members?

FF: Thank you to former marine service instructor and mentor Kelly Ewing, Yamaha District Service Manager (DSM) Kerry Schroeder, Suzuki Service Representative Lius Gonzalez, NMEA Director Mark Reedenauer, ABYC Foundation Accreditation Director Sarah Devlin, and fellow instructor, Ron Tomlin, for all their support. Also, the Marine Service Technology Program wouldn’t be where it is today if not for the continuous support of Doug Wagner, Director of MTC, and Justin Erickson, Deputy Director of MTC.

Past winners include Kevin McKiernan, North Providence High School (2022); Magnus Gedda, Volvo Penta of the Americas, and Anthony Margiotta, College of the Florida Keys (2021); Stephen Spencer, Palm Beach State College (2020). 

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