Luis Fernandez said he’s always been interested in cars and he often played with toy cars when he was younger.
The Beloit Memorial High School senior is turning his interest into a career. Fernandez is enrolled in the school’s automotive program. The program began close to eight years ago and has grown tremendously within the last year.
There are currently six sections of Auto I, the introduction class. Four classes are taught by Technology and Automotive Education Teacher Aaron Troxell. Troxell said the additional two courses, taught by another teacher, were added due to a high demand by students. Each course holds a maximum of 23 students.
Students work at a garage located in the Eclipse Center. The garage mimics a professional repair shop, complete with five donated cars, five lifts and other specialty tools.
“They can tear them apart and put them back together,” Troxell said. “... While a lot (of cars) are the same in some areas, a lot are different and it helps out the students to see that difference.”
Similar to other programs at the school, there is an advisory committee which oversees and guides the program.
“We’re getting those industry professionals in here to talk with me and tell me what they’re looking for,” Troxell said.
One junior and three seniors, including Fernandez, currently are working at dealerships in the area. Last year, the program became accredited by the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation (NATEF). The program was ranked on instruction, facilities and equipment used.
“This is great news for automotive-minded young people and their parents,” said NATEF Chair Donald Seyfer in a statement. “Because this program increases cooperation between local education and industry leaders, it gives added assurance that Beloit Memorial’s graduates will be employable entry-level technicians. As a result of the quality education provided by Beloit Memorial, the motoring public will benefit since better repair technicians will join the work force.”
Students in the program can receive $1,000 credit for tuition at Universal Technical Institute (UTI), articulation credit from Blackhawk Technical College and transcriptive credit from Gateway Technical College amounting to two college credits, which will transfer to any Wisconsin technical college. Students also receive a tuition discount of $250 at Gateway College.
Troxell said the school is working on adding additional certifications. Currently students are safety and oil certified. The school is working to obtain a grant which would allow students to have more tools, which depending on type, cost between $5,000 and $10,000.
Fernandez said he’s learned a lot in the program and hopes to own his own shop one day.
“This is my favorite class because it’s one of the things I get to work on hands-on,” said Fernandez, who has already been accepted to UTI.
The career is a steady one. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted a 60,000-job increase in the field between 2010-2022.
“I don’t think these jobs are going anywhere,” Troxell said. “Everyone is going to own a vehicle some day and you should know how it works.”