MVP: Michael Gallagher, Chair of Saratoga Schools’ Tech Department

If you think current students at Saratoga Springs City School District are restricted to woodworking and crafts in shop class, we have the guy most qualified to tell you that elective paths (home economics? Not a thing anymore) look a lot different these days. Michael Gallagher, department chair of technology education for the district, has been teaching technology education here for 23 years. “My father was an engineer at GE and was part of some groundbreaking inventions,” says Gallagher, who earned his master’s from the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). “Stories of his work sparked my passion for technology, leading me to education as a technology teacher.”

These days, technology education is generally split into two major strains: One path is more engineering-based (with Saratoga schools offering several classes for college credit from RIT), and the other involves hands-on trade skills such as carpentry and woodworking (what most folks think of when they hear “shop class”). “In one classroom we have a bunch of 3D printers, a laser cutter and desktop computers,” Gallagher says. “And the other lab is all woodworking equipment, a table saw and band saw, so the kids can build wooden stuff in there.”

What makes Saratoga’s technology education stand out is that Gallagher has chosen to emphasize both paths equally. “A lot of school districts have focused on either engineering or the trade skills, and I think it’s a real injustice to cut one to add or fund another,” he says. “We’re the only school in the area that I know of that never cut either.”

Gallagher has also made a big push for diversity and inclusion. Last year, he started a series of guest speakers who talk to students via Zoom. “Former students talk to our kids about what it’s like in the real world,” he says. “We’ve had this tech education program for so long that we try to get women and students from diverse backgrounds.” One such alum that Gallagher recently invited to talk was Tristan de Jesús, a scientist at GentiBio doing cutting-edge work in genome engineering.

Gallagher’s balanced and inclusive approach is connecting with students. He’s eager to show off YouTube videos of his former students doing amazing work, such as Ryan Watkins, a Research Engineer at NASA who’s using 3D printing for the next Mars Rover mission, and Elliott Poppel, who was a global advisor at Meta (Facebook) for five years before creating his own software startup called General Collaboration.

“I’ve had some kids that have gone on and just done crazy stuff,” Gallagher says with a proud smile. “I can’t wait to see what they’ll do next.”

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