Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Hands On with the Automotive Technology Department

By Levena Lindahl with thanks to Walter Varella

            Walking around Trident’s main campus, I am sure you have gone past the fenced off area at the end of the 800 building.  Full of cars, this area always made me curious.  What was going on? Why were there so many different versions of cars and trucks in various states of repair there? And in the bays attached to the building?  That was my introduction to the automotive technology program at Trident Tech.

            This is a really hands on and unique program at the college.  Most people have a vehicle, but how much can you take care of yourself, outside of perhaps filling the tank or changing a wiper?  This program teaches its participants everything they need to know to go out and work in the diverse automotive industry.  Not only are there two associate degrees with day and night tracks to fit peoples’ lifestyles, there are also multiple certificates that include Automotive Servicing, Engine Repair Specialist, Transmission Repair Specialist, Engine Performance Specialist, as well as a Brakes and Alignment Specialist.

            To find out more about this program, I was able to talk with Mr. Varella, one of the teachers and a head of the program.  While Trident offers many programs, I can see why the Automotive program is so popular, and its due to the people who run it.   Mr. Varella is very easy to approach and talk to, and he clearly cares not only for what he teaches but also the students that he works with, talking enthusiastically and at length about both. 

            When I asked about the program, I found out that the program starts in the fall, and that the students all go through it together, making a sense of community and family very common; they’re cohorts.  These are students that will be working together for the next two and a half years as they learn what really makes cars tick, and I was told that these are friendships that last even after graduation as graduates head into the workforce.  Apparently it isn’t uncommon for former students to be able to call one another for parts or even an extra set of hands! 

            To obtain the associate’s degree in the program requires 84 credit hours, but Mr. Varella raised a very good point as to why he encourages his students to aim for it rather than just certificates.  While the certificates are a wonderful tool to expand on skillsets, he feels that the degree program adds in extra communication and math skills that make students even more desirable in the workforce.  He gave an example of when a person takes their car in to a shop to be worked on and asks to talk to the person working on their car.  He asked if they would feel more confident in a person who looked them in the eye and was able to clearly explain all that is being done or if a person who couldn’t explain clearly was a better choice.  That need to communicate effectively is why English is a part of the degree program, and math is included to allow students to break down costs for clients.

            As far as those cars in the fence went, I was told those are what the students work on to build their skills.  Students, as well as faculty, can also bring in their own cars to be worked on.  Project cars can be brought in, with the understanding that the work process will be done over the course of a semester or even two for more involved processes.  The students also put on a car show every spring on the last Saturday of the month.  The 2015 Spring Spin-off car show is expecting three thousand attendees!  Car enthusiasts of any age are invited to come and enjoy a day surrounded by cars in multiple classes to support scholarships for students in the automotive program.

            For a full write up on everything this degree and these certificates can offer you, please check out this page, and if you have any questions stop in to talk to either Walter “Buzz” Varella at 574-6184 or Clint Snider at 574-6725.


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