When a Columbus Area Career Connection instructor steps into his classroom, he’s not a teacher anymore. Instead, he’s a teammate.
When teaching electronics and automation and robotics in high school, Mike Riley said he knows that it is important to give his C4 students a true picture of what it would be like in the electrical engineering world, such as working collaboratively with other people to accomplish a job.
“It’s not like a boss and employee (relationship),” Riley said of his teaching style. “We’re fellow workers — teammates. It’s like we’re on the same team, and we’re all working together.”
Riley’s collaborative, hands-on approach to teaching earned him distinction last week when he was named the 2016 recipient of the Edna V. Folger Outstanding Teacher Award at the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting.
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“I was in total shock,” Riley said. “It means a lot. I never thought I’d win an award like that.”
Students, parents, teachers, administrators and community members nominate local teachers for the Folger Award each year based on the impact they have made on the community, both in the classroom and beyond, said David DeGraaf, president of Faurecia North America, which sponsors the award.
DeGraaf presented the award with Marsha VanNahmen, assistant director of the IUPUC center for teaching and learning, which also sponsors it.
DeGraaf and VanNahmen chronicled some of the high points in Riley’s career, including his transition from the electrical engineering industry into full-time teaching, his dedication to his students and the successful start-up this year of the automation and robotics course he now teaches.
While Riley acknowledges that he has been successful in his transition from industry into the classroom, his goal is primarily to help his students learn and grow, he said.
“I don’t do things to win awards,” Riley said. “I don’t do anything but teach.”
Becoming a teacher was never intentionally on Riley’s radar. He was well into his career as an electrician for Cummins, Inc. when he first ventured into education after a former C4 teacher invited him to start teaching a few electronics classes.
“(He) saw that I could teach,” Riley said. “I thought I was just showing them what we do.”
Riley became a teacher in 1995 when he started working as an adjunct professor at Ivy Tech while also finishing his career at Cummins.
When his predecessor at C4 retired in 1999, Riley stepped in and officially took over his own high school class, one year after retiring from his business-world career as an electrician.
The transition into teaching suits Riley, his students say.
Jackson Swaim, a C4 junior who is interested in becoming an electrical engineer, said Riley makes an effort to walk him through any difficulties he might be having in the automation and robotics class to ensure he fully understands what he is being taught. The class covers programming, wiring and other techniques related to robotics.
“He helps us a lot,” Swaim said. “I get a lot more out of it.”
Outside of the classroom, Riley’s natural teaching ability is evident, his family members said.
His son, Jacob Riley, said he was wandering aimlessly after high school and did not have many career ambitions. But with his father’s guidance, the younger Riley is now a successful software developer.
If his father hadn’t made an effort to help him forge a career path, Jacob Riley said his life would have taken a much different turn.
“He guided me as a son and as a student,” he said.
Despite the praise he has received from his colleagues, students and family throughout his career as a teacher, Mike Riley said he is shocked to be the recipient of the Folger award.
To him, being an electrical engineering teacher is not about winning awards or getting accolades — it’s about passion.
His passion is for electronics, and his job gives him the opportunity to share that passion with the next generation of engineers.
“Electronics has always been my hobby, so it’s like I get to do my hobby for a job,” he said.
Mike Riley, 64, is an electronics and automation and robotics teacher at C4 Columbus Area Career Connection. He began his career in education in 1995 as an adjunct professor at Ivy Tech and then began teaching high school in 1999.
Before becoming a full-time teacher, Riley worked as an electrician for Cummins, Inc. His work as an adjunct professor overlapped for a time with his job at Cummins. He took college courses and received a special license from the Indiana Department of Education to officially transition into teaching.
He and his wife, Jane, live in Columbus.