MTC instructor named US boating nonprofit’s Educator of the Year | The Observer

By Liz Ramos, April 10, 2024

Freddie Fowler, a Marine Service Technology instructor
Freddie Fowler, a Marine Service Technology instructor at Manatee Technical College,
has been named American Boat and Yacht Council Foundation’s Educator of the Year.
Photo by Liz Ramos

During his 21 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, Freddie Fowler learned discipline, leadership and how to think outside the box.

They are traits he said he uses every day as a Marine Service Technology instructor at Manatee Technical College.

On April 4, his Marine Corp training kicked into gear as he helped his students solve a problem on a customer’s boat.

The customer wanted a new steering cable, but the students couldn’t get the cable into the motor mount. Fowler worked with them to find a solution, which was to remove the motor to put the cable in place.

It’s just one of the many times Fowler has launched into problem solving mode with his students on a real world problem.

Fowler’s out-of-the-box thinking, dedication to his students and his ability to help the Marine Service Technology program at MTC grow has earned Fowler the American Boat & Yacht Council Foundation’s Educator of the Year award.

Fowler said he is humbled and honored to be named the Educator of the Year, and it is a tribute to those who have mentored and supported him over the years.

Fowler, 51, joined the Marine Corps after graduating high school.

He retired as a master sergeant in 2012 after serving 21 years and being deployed to Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Living in Parrish after retirement, Fowler bought a boat. He always loved being on the water and wanted to be like the people he saw pulling up to restaurants from the water.

He purchased a 36-foot Monterey boat, which he admits was a bigger boat than he should have bought because he didn’t know anything about the proper care and maintenance. 

In 2014, he decided to enroll in MTC’s Marine Service Technology program, though he didn’t complete the program as he continued to pursue his degree in psychology from the University of South Florida. 

Fowler eventually completed the MTC program in 2016 and decided to pursue jobs in the marine industry working for companies such as Jupiter Marine International and Yellowfin Yachts.

After finding out said MTC instructor and mentor Kelly Ewing was retiring, Fowler decided to apply for the marine technology instructor position.

He wanted to give back to the program that helped launch his second career and become engrossed in the marine industry. More importantly, he wanted to ensure those going into the industry were educated to meet the demands of the industry. 

The days of simply knowing how to fix a boat engine are over. Fowler said people entering the marine industry now must know everything about the boat from front to back, including the construction, the electrical system, the technology, and more.

Becoming an instructor for the Marine Service Technology program was intimidating, Fowler said. He wanted to make Ewing proud and add to the legacy his mentor left behind. 

Ewing helped Fowler develop more patience, especially with people as the transition from military to civilian life wasn’t easy for him.

He said his military background and personal experiences help him relate to students. He can understand the students who are pursuing a second career, those who are high school students dual enrolled and trying to find their next steps or the military veterans enrolled in the program.

“A lot of people have had some bad cards dealt to them in their life, and I can understand what’s going on and sit down and have deep, good conversations to be able to connect with them one-on-one,” he said. 

Marine Service Technology student
Marine Service Technology students like Dylan Scalone love being able to work on their personal boats and customers’ boats with the help of instructor Freddie Fowler.
Photo by Liz Ramos

Throughout his two-and-a-half years leading the program, Fowler has helped it grow its community and business partnerships, including establishing certification opportunities for students with Yamaha, Suzuki, the National Marine Electronics Association and the American Boat & Yacht Council. 

Despite the program’s 100% job placement rate for students and the program outgrowing its space on MTC’s main campus, Fowler said there’s still room to grow.

His hope for the program is to someday have its own facility in a marina so his students can learn how to drive a boat and boat safety while actually in the water.

“We have people in (the program) who had never been on a boat before but are learning how to fix them,” Fowler said. 

Fowler wants to ensure his students are ready for success upon graduation.

He works with them side-by-side on issues that arise while working on a project so he can instill confidence in them to know they are capable of finding solutions. 

He has seen some of his students who struggled at the beginning of the program become his most promising students in the class.

“I have seen all walks of life coming off the streets trying to work in this boating industry,” he said. “We lost a lot of good people because they just didn’t know how to do the job.”

Fowler said the industry sometimes sets people up for failure because they are “thrown to the wolves” without the education needed to be successful, which is why he wanted to be an instructor at MTC. 

Fowler said he tells his students all the time that he shows up every day to train his replacement.

“I want them to surpass me,” he said. “I want them to come back and give back to the boating community. If everybody did that, the marine industry would be in an even greater place than it already is.”

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