Illinois Teacher of the Year Challenges his Students at the Illinois State Fair

Engine teardown challenge highlights lessons learned in career technical education classes

SPRINGFIELD, IL — Steve Elza, the 2015 Illinois Teacher of the Year, and 10 of his current and former students from William Fremd High School in Palatine will demonstrate their expertise and knowledge in automotive technology this weekend by participating in an engine teardown in the Governor’s Tent at the Illinois State Fair.

“Great teaching takes many forms, but all teaching has the same goal: to inspire students and provide them with the ability to succeed after they graduate,” said Gov. Bruce Rauner. “The type of hands-on experience these students are receiving is a stepping stone into a good paying job in a very technical field, or it can ignite a hobby that becomes a lifelong passion just by getting their hands a little dirty to hear the roar of an engine they were responsible for bringing to life. I want to thank Steve and all our teachers for extraordinary work they do every day with our Illinois students.”

Although the engine teardown is a race of time, the more important aspect is the quality of what the students have learned through coursework and hands-on experience. Five students will disassemble a small block Chevy engine down to the block and crank then reassemble following industry standard procedures and torque specifications, typically within the current state and national competition criteria of 20 minutes.

“Steve’s students are demonstrating technical skills and lifelong skills of problem solving that will serve them well in any career they pursue,’ said State Superintendent of Education Tony Smith, Ph.D. “Team building, concise communication, attention to detail, the ability to perform well under pressure, are all valuable tools for their futures. Combined with their core subjects of math, science and English, these students will graduate well equipped to continue their education and enter the workforce.”

Students in Steve’s classes share a passion for engines and how they work. That passion is fueled by experiences such as this challenge that ignites their competitive edge and unites them in a brotherhood similar to those found in sports.

“The brotherhood is the same in team sports such as football and hockey – long nights, good friends, and competiveness,” said team member and former student Mike Nitti. “The difference in engine teardown is that we all share the same burning fascination for iron and oil, where in other team sports, people come from various backgrounds with different hobbies but all our hobbies line up.”

Steve’s own school experiences make him an outstanding teacher and mentor to his students. He struggled with school until the end of his sophomore year in high school when an opportunity arose that would change his life—he was offered the chance to attend the Technology Center of DuPage (TCD) to specialize in automotive technology. College had never been a part of Steve’s plan until the program director, Jim Krudl, asked him to visit Southern Illinois University. Steve obliged and, in his words, “fell in love.” He was the first person in his family to attend college and graduate.

Elza and his students will be showcasing their talents at 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 14; Saturday, Aug. 15; and Sunday, Aug. 16.

“After high school, life takes all of us in different directions, but we will always share automotive technology as our passion,” said Dion Analitis, team member and former student. “We are very excited to have the opportunity to showcase something that has had such a positive impact on our lives.”

The Governor’s Tent is located at the corner of Main Street and Bryan Ramey Avenue, near the main entrance to the fairgrounds.  A complete list of the team members can be found at