Salvador Gonzalez, program director and instructor of Diesel Equipment Technology at Georgia Northwestern Technical College (GNTC), has been named the First Runner-Up for the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) 2023 Rick Perkins Instructor of the Year.
Gonzalez was named one of nine regional winners on Tuesday, April 25, at the GOAL and Rick Perkins State Conference in Atlanta. He competed against other regional winners from across Georgia on Wednesday, April 26, at the GOAL and Rick Perkins State Conference in Atlanta where he was named the First Runner-Up.
“Mr. Gonzales is an exceptional instructor and is a true asset to GNTC,” said Dr. Heidi Popham, GNTC president, adding how proud GNTC is of his selection as First Runner-Up. “Our students benefit on a daily basis from the dedication and enthusiasm provided by Sal. His ability to build supportive and encouraging relationships with his students and valuable partnerships with business and industry are some of the many strengths he brings to GNTC and in contributing to the success of our students.”
The Rick Perkins Award honors the TCSG’s most outstanding instructors. The award has been an ongoing statewide event since 1991 and recognizes technical college instructors who make significant contributions to technical education through innovation and leadership in their fields.
As the First Runner-Up for the 2023 Instructor of the Year, should the state winner not be able to fulfill their duties, Gonzalez would step in and serve as an ambassador for technical education in Georgia during a number of system and college functions throughout the year.
Gonzalez, a Dalton resident, was named GNTC’s 2023 Rick Perkins Instructor of the Year on Jan. 31. He established the Diesel Equipment Technology program on GNTC’s Whitfield Murray Campus, designed its curriculum and secured support from several area transportation-related businesses, including Freightliner Trucks, U.S. Xpress Enterprises Inc., Penske Automotive, Shaw Industries Group Inc. and Ford of Dalton. This support has included money, tools and diesel equipment, which students take apart and rebuild in the classroom.
The Leadership Dalton-Whitfield 2022 class donated $2,460 to outfit 12 GNTC Diesel program students with mechanic tool kits they need to jumpstart their careers after Gonzalez suggested the donation as a way the Leadership class could support GNTC and its students.
Gonzalez, the son of two immigrants who both have only a sixth-grade education, recalled that his life changed on the last day of eighth grade. “‘You are a good kid, Sal, and you have a lot of potential,’” his teacher said. “Those words and that hug changed me. I started working hard in school and became a good student.”
As a high school sophomore, he “fell in love with working on cars” after he started working with his uncle in an auto repair shop. His uncle and his high school automotive class teacher told him they learned to work on cars at a technical college.
He got a job changing oil and performing basic maintenance at a car dealership after high school, but he could not advance in the shop because he lacked the necessary training, he said.
He was discouraged that he did not qualify for financial aid to attend technical college; however, his father convinced him to pursue his education and worked odd jobs to help him attend technical college, he explained.
He earned a diploma in Auto-Diesel Technology with High Performance Engines from Lincoln Tech in 2010.
“All of this was possible through hard work and a technical education,” he said. “I am the son of two dreamers who gave me the resources needed to be successful in life. I hope my students and my children see me as an example to go after their dreams and to never give up.”
Prior to starting at GNTC in 2019, Gonzalez was technician/team lead at Brooker Ford Lincoln Mercury (now known as Ford of Dalton) from 2007-18 and apprentice technician at Red Star Automotive in Conyers from 2005-16.
His community service activities include mentoring students while he was in college, serving warm meals during Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays at Providence Ministries, Spanish to English translating during the Christmas toy giveaway at Providence Ministries, volunteering as a softball and T-ball coach and donating to GNTC’s Foundation, which supports areas of institutional need including student scholarships, equipment purchases, library materials purchases and staff development.
The most recent state winners to represent GNTC were 2019 Rick Perkins Award winner Leyner Argueta, program director of Business Management, and Troy Peco, assistant dean of Industrial Technologies, program director and instructor of Automotive Technology and the state’s 2013 Rick Perkins Award winner.