Washington County ‘Gator’ wins career and technical educator of the month

Mike Hassler speaks at an event, date and locaton unspecified | Photo courtesy of Mike Hassler, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Mike “Gator” Hassler has been named Washington County’s educator of the month in career and technical education — a great way to start the new year, Hassler said.

“I’m at the district office, and my boss comes up to me, smiles and shows me his computer,” he recalled. “Next thing you know, everything just started blowing up!”

As a work-based learning coordinator, Hassler focuses on identifying students’ goals and dreams and then helps them market those skills to employers.

“I developed a system called the Washington K-12 Career Development Program,” he said. “They go through these professional development workshops. And then after these workshops, they end in an industry-led mock interview, so the students have to score 80% or higher in these mock interviews, which are judged and scored by our local employers.”  

Hassler’s career development program has increased employer engagement, according to a recent press release.

Kara Olsen, top, and Jo Canaris do physical therapy together, date and location unspecified | Photo courtesy Mike Hassler, St. George News
“I’ve built a program that had 10 companies when I started, and we’ve grown over 5,000%,” he said.
Now nearly 800 total businesses are involved. The number of coordinators available depends on funding. At times, up to five people were busy with work, but today only Hassler holds down the fort.

But that doesn’t mean he goes at it alone. The businesses that have volunteered to be a part of mock interviews help him immensely. 

“The students don’t have a place to go to if the employers don’t step up,” Hassler said.

And step up they do. One of them is Tri-fit physical therapy, run by Lance Himmelright, who takes interns under his wing to train.

“I teach them skills and guide them hands-on,” Himmelright said. “I take them in to teach them how therapy and patient healthcare professional interactions work, whether that’s information gathering for new evaluation for demographics or helping patients with exercises.”

Himmelright said that Hassler deserves the award because what he does is unprecedented.

“I think what makes me different from most is I have a workforce development background. I’m really good in sales and marketing and recruiting,” Hassler noted. “I make sure that I see every single student’s face individually, and I get to know their story personally. “

The Washington County School District offices, St. George, Utah, Dec. 10, 2019 | Photo by Ryann Richardson, St. George News

He said it isn’t easy work, but it makes a difference.

Himmelright said he loves to take the program’s students into his company.

“I’d hire almost any of them,” he noted. “don’t know of a lot of programs that do this for students. He gives them a unique opportunity to get the skills they need for success in life and the skills to get a job.”

A shining example of the program’s success is Brooke Taylor, a 2019 high school graduate and former student of Hassler’s and employee of Himmelright’s.

“I appreciated getting my foot in the door and being able to be a physical therapist and it helped me to make career choices that led me to where I am now,” she said. “Lance had hired me as an aide afterwards.”

Hassler praised others who worked just as hard to make the program successful.

“I just want people to know how appreciative I am of the students and the community and what they’ve done,” Hassler said. “For the students, I just love that they’re willing to break the stigma that kids don’t want to work. Sometimes I just sit back and think ‘Man, isn’t it cool that this is going on in our community’?”

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2024, all rights reserved.

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