In true carpenter fashion, alumnus Travis Oliver 2010 was standing at the lathe putting the finishing touches on a wood pen he created just seconds before his feature interview was scheduled to start. It was apparent he was in his element being inside the shop at Crookston High School.

Oliver had been a substitute teacher at CHS for six years before taking on the role as one of their industrial education teachers. He’s currently teaching beginning and advanced woods (woodworking) and beginning and advanced metals/welding. Other classes Oliver taught over the years included construction trades, where students built houses for the City of Crookston, intro to ag, and intro to AutoCAD.

“When another teacher (at CHS) retired they took my position and added on metals education so I’m teaching both wood and metal classes,” Oliver explained. “I had 45 kids sign up for welding this year and I try to follow what Northland (Community & Technical College) does in Thief River Falls so those students going on (in that field) will have that experience.”

“I’ve also thought about PSEO (post-secondary education options) for these students as there aren’t very many classes outside of generals, and now, after two years of setting it up, some of these students may be able to walk across the stage at Northland with a certificate in welding,” he added. “I’ve also pitched similar programs to UMC.”

Oliver’s education stems far and wide with two associate’s degrees from Minnesota State Community & Technical College in residential carpentry and construction management, a bachelor’s degree in construction from North Dakota State University, and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota Crookston in manufacturing management with a minor in business, plus he pursued another bachelor’s degree in agriculture education from U of M Crookston that he’s close in eligibility to receive.

“I loved going to UMC as it’s a close-knit community and the teachers were very personable,” he shared. “The connections I made with other students and administrators were important and kids come from all over to make those types of connections.”

“That was the difference for me between going to NDSU and UMC,” Oliver continued. “At NDSU I was a face in a crowd or I was in an auditorium with 200 kids. At UMC I was a name at a desk and had a unique learning experience.”

Oliver mentioned that his second time at U of M Crookston was more of the “hands-on” learning experience.

“Every night I’d go home and have a story to tell,” he determined. “Ag ed students obviously have the hands-on actual practicum such as reading about welding and then actually doing welding, learning how to take care of a plant and then actually growing a plant, or even going into the barns and giving animals shots.”

“There was one animal science class that I was in and I was the only male and the only one who hadn’t grown up on a farm,” Oliver admitted. “Those students could do the task covered in manure with no hesitation and I was the nervous one. This isn’t something you’d do at most any other school.”

In addition to the experiences Oliver had at U of M Crookston, one of his class projects in business turned into an actual business opportunity. Oliver’s Canoe Outfitters emerged and is a popular business during the warmer months that’s still in operation.  

Like his unique educational experiences, Oliver’s work experience has also varied from working for area contractors on residential and commercial properties, which included helping build Crookston’s Drafts Sports Bar & Grill and the addition onto the former RBJ’s Restaurant, to being recruited to work on the Nogalas, Arizona border fence and at a nearby Air Force Base. And then there’s all the friend, family, and community projects he’s tackled over a 20-year span. He seems to be the go-to for special requests and is always eager to lend a hand.

Standout community projects Oliver personally helped complete have been the City of Crookston’s new welcome signs in 2021, custom tables for area bars and restaurants, and the uniquely designed fire tables, in collaboration with his students at CHS, that received national attention.

“The Crookston Times (newspaper) did a story on the s’mores fire tables my students and I built for our community festival, Ox Cart Days, and that somehow reached the Hershey’s company,” Oliver explained. “Hershey’s reached out to me first to offer to send us chocolate and that turned into them wanting to come to Crookston and shoot a commercial here.”

“Those commercials have aired all over the country and I’ve gotten a lot of emails and messages about the fire tables,” he added. “Some people wanted the fire table plans or advice on how to build them, and some wanted me to build tables for them.”

Oliver and some of his students recently refinished the festival’s fire tables so they’re ready for another s’mores event in August.

One of the latest projects he worked on is a giant Minnesota ‘M’ for the U of M Crookston to display at their leased space downtown called “The Nest on Broadway.” How the craftsmanship for the ‘M’ transpired is a story on its own.

“During the COVID shutdown I was prepping the classroom for when the kids would come back and I had a bunch of scrap wood lying around, so I started putting pieces together and when I got to the end I looked up to see the big ‘M’ wood cutout hanging on my shop wall and thought I’d put the big scrap wood structure into the machine and trace it out,” Oliver described. “I then put metal behind it and hung it in my shed. People have complimented me on it and a conversation was had that a copy might look nice downtown with lights behind it so that’s how that happened.”

“Not every piece of wood is reusable and not everything is fire placeable, and not everything can be thrown (away) so I try to save as much as I can and create projects with the students,” he added. “It helps develop their skill set with materials that would previously be in a bonfire.”

Oliver says those types of scrap projects can’t be replicated, they’re one of a kind. He tries to instill in his students the pride that goes into the creation of projects and encourages them to think about how they can change their plans for next time.

How Oliver teaches his students has evolved over the years and he continues to strive for that “spark” in each one of them as they realize their potential.

During his down time, Oliver loves being outdoors and spending time with his family which includes wife, Ann, and three girls, Ava, Hazel, and Piper.