Manufacturing instructor draws upon his experience as a military veteran

Dave Thompson

Chippewa Valley Technical College

Instructor/Program Director

Machine Tooling Technics

When Dave Thompson talks about the Machine Tool program at Chippewa Valley Technical College, his eyes light up with the same excitement and passion he had when he was a first-year student there in 1990.

This time, though, he is in his 19th year as an instructor and program director. “Going through that program changed my life,” explains Thompson. “It set up a path for success and is the reason I’m at where I am today.”

Thompson’s introduction into the industry began with a metals class he took while attending Eau Claire North High School. Knowing he wanted to stay in the field, he enrolled in the Machine Tool program at CVTC. Two years later, he earned his technical diploma.

Thompson went on to work for Marquip in Madison and then later at 3M in Menomonie as a Senior Mold Technician. In 1997, when he was at a crossroads with 3M, he noticed that CVTC was hiring faculty. He applied — was hired — and has never looked back. 

Early on in his career as a Machine Tool instructor, Thompson got a thirst for more education. As a full-time instructor, he found time to take classes as a non-traditional student and eventually earned his Bachelor’s degree in Career Technical Education and Training from UW-Stout and later his Master’s in Education and Professional Development from UW-La Crosse.

Not only is Thompson a veteran of the manufacturing industry, he is also a military veteran, having spent 20 years in the Army National Guard infantry from 1986-2006. “The military really helped me become the instructor that I am,” he says. “Through my roles, I’ve gotten to deal with many different individuals. It’s helped me be able to identify the different traits of the students.”

Manufacturing is an ideal career option for veterans, and no one knows that better than Thompson. “I’m starting to see more and more veterans coming through the program,” he notes. “Manufacturing tends to be such hands-on learning, and veterans tend to be very comfortable in that environment.”

With almost 20 years in as an instructor, Thompson has no plans of changing careers anytime soon. “The classroom is where I’m most comfortable,” he says. “I just want to keep becoming a better instructor. I truly love it.”

It’s a career that provides him joy on a regular basis. “The most rewarding aspect is seeing that student succeed,” says Thompson. “Hands-down.”

Even beyond the big picture of success are the small victories that he gets to witness on a daily basis. “You see their eyes light up when the finally get a concept,” he explains. “Or when they bring their family to graduation. For some, they are the first generation to ever go to college.”

Outside of the classroom, Thompson, who used to compete in power lifting and body building statewide, continues to stay active. His hobbies center around the outdoors, including boating, jet skiing and snowmobiling.

Thompson is also a single father to Taylor Lynn whom he calls, “One of my proudest achievements.” In her senior year at Eau Claire North, she is taking a shop class just like Thompson did at that age. It remains to be seen whether or not she will follow in dad’s footsteps in the manufacturing industry, but whatever she decides, “I’m so proud of her,” Thompson concludes.