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Automotive Technology programs excelling at GAVC

MORRIS – Most high school students aren’t planning to land full-time jobs after graduation, but that’s exactly what students who have completed the Automotive Technology program at the Grundy Area Vocational Center will be equipped to do.

Ryan Smith, senior at Morris Community High School, has been in the automotive program for the past two years. When he began, Smith had no desire to pursue an automotive career, but now, the senior will be attending Ohio Technical College to become a diesel mechanic.

“I’ve learned a lot from them,” Smith said. “When I first started my junior year, I knew only a little bit, but they’ve taught me so much.”

Thanks to the hard work of instructor Andy Kacena and assistant Rob Schwiesow, the Automotive Technology Department at GAVC has joined an exclusive group of about 30 programs statewide, which have received certification from the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation.

“By having this certification, it shows us as being an elite program,” Mark Hulbert, assistant director of GAVC, said. “It also opens the program up for donations from major companies.”

To receive the prestigious accreditation, instructors had to design an entirely new curriculum to meet NATEF standards. The new coursework better equips students with the skills needed to find jobs directly out of school.

“Basically, everything we do had to be changed,” Kacena said.

After writing and organizing the new program, Kacena and Schwiesow developed an eight-page checklist detailing every topic covered in the new curriculum.

Students will learn everything from changing a tire to running computer diagnostics, Schwiesow said.

“Every time we learn something, they check it off on the list,” Smith said. “When we’re done, they give it to us so if we want to get a job, we can take it to an employer to show them everything we’ve learned.”

With the changes, second-year senior students who make it through the entire course can graduate from the program with maintenance and light repair certification. With that behind them, students can apply for jobs at a repair shops after graduating high school.

“Students will leave here with a basic understanding of a vehicle and its parts,” Kacena said. “They should be able to work an entry level position in a repair shop.”

Kacena said it took roughly two years to complete the certification process. After updating the program to meet NATEF standards, the program was evaluated by a team of professionals from throughout the area before receiving the certification.

“The most difficult part was covering the amount of tasks in time,” Schwiesow said. “We worked hard to reorganize and coordinate everything.”

In attempt to make things more organized, the department pioneered new grading technology that allows instructors to work remotely from iPads or other computer tablets.

“It allows us to track the student’s progress through their tasks lists,” Kacena said.

Hulbert said NATEF is considering using the technology for future certification processes because of its success at GAVC.

“A NATEF leader actually contacted us and said this was the first time they had seen this kind of technology,” Hulbert said.

With the new recognition, the department also is more likely to receive public funding and donations from corporate sponsors.

Kacena said the program will receive five digital meters upon completion of the certification process, but have potential to receive several more supplies.

“Companies like Toyota, GM and anybody else look to NATEF certified programs first for these donations because they have a higher quality education,” Kacena said.

The certification will last for five years before GAVC will have to update its curriculum and undergo further evaluations.

“We’re always trying to prepare students for the next step in their journey,” Hulbert said. “Whether that be work or trade school or technical school or college. We want to cover all the bases.”

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