SLCC reinvests in its automotive-studies program, recertifies with NATEF
St. Louis—In these days of tight budgets, it’s good to see a community college give its automotive-studies program a vote of confidence by reinvesting through major upgrades in equipment and technology.
So says Richard (Rick) Anthes, associate professor and department chair for St. Louis Community College’s Automotive Studies program.
“I think it’s important that the college has invested, and is continuing to make an investment, in our program,” he said. “That might not seem like a big deal, but when you talk to other schools, there are a lot of people just barely holding on. Our college money’s tight, but I think the college believes in us enough that they are making an investment in us. That’s pretty neat.”
Perhaps the most visible example of that investment will be three new Rotary Shockwave “smart” in-ground lifts, replacing lifts that have been in place for decades. The new lifts will be environmentally friendly as well as much safer, Anthes said.
The department also has installed new equipment from Hunter, including a HawkEye alignment system and Road Force balancers, and greatly expanded its library of scan tools.
“We have also recertified ourselves with NATEF, and we have articulation agreements with Southern Illinois University – Carbondale and Pittsburg State University in Pittsburgh, Kansas,” Anthes said.
The agreements allow students to transfer to those schools and continue their automotive education beyond an associate’s degree.
The program has about 100 students at its Forest Park location plus another 40 students in a diesel program at a satellite location in St. Louis County, Anthes said.
In addition to Anthes, SLCC’s automotive-studies department includes assistant professors Joseph Jackson, Joshua Walker, and Steve Goessling, who leads the department’s diesel-technology program.
SLCC offers students a certificate of specialization, a certificate of proficiency, and an associate in applied science degree, Anthes said. The certificate of specialization (18 credit hours) allows students to complete basic coursework and learn basic skills in just a year, while the certificate of proficiency (47 credit hours) and the associates degree (68 credit hours) are normally two-year programs. The certificate of proficiency program includes some academic classes for graduation, while the degree program includes the full complement of academic coursework for an associates degree.
The ratio of lab time to lecture time is about 2:1, Anthes said. Students are required to provide their own tools, adding that Snap-on offers students a discount program for purchasing tools.
“We have a very low instructor-student ratio,” Anthes said. “Our first-year sections are limited to 15. Then, in the second year, because there’s a lot more hands-on, the sections are limited to 12.”
In the second year, students also gain experience in an on-campus repair facility open to faculty and staff, Anthes said. Not only do students become familiar with the routine of shop life in a repair facility, they also gain experience in necessary “soft skills,” he said.
Each semester, every second-year student has to do a two-week rotation on the service desk, Anthes said. By dealing with the public, they learn to be presentable, how to talk with people, the elements of telephone etiquette, and other skills necessary for good customer relations, including, sometimes, “how to bring order out of chaos.”
“If nothing else – because a lot of them work part-time in a shop – they can appreciate what that guy at the front desk is going through,” Anthes said.
A diverse student body
Because SLCC’s program is an open-entry program, his students come from diverse backgrounds that include, not only young men and women just out of high school, but also veterans returning to civilian life from military service, immigrants “from all over the world,” second-career students, and individuals who simply want to improve their automotive skills as hobbyists or car collectors.
“We don’t have a typical student,” Anthes said.
The age range of students is equally broad, Anthes adds, from perhaps 18 or 19 to students in their 50s.
Regardless of their backgrounds, Anthes and his fellow faculty members seek to prepare students for the challenges technicians face today and understanding how to use the software tools that form part of every technician’s toolkit, from shop management and information systems such as AllData, Mitchell 1, and MotoLOGIC to scan tools such as Snap-on’s MODIS, Verus, or GM’s Tech2.
While employers are looking for “everything” in a graduate, including the requisite skills, the “big thing that everybody really needs is someone who’s got a good attitude, that is presentable, and most importantly, trainable,” Anthes said.
“What you really need is somebody that you can teach the culture of your shop, and that they’re going to stay with you. That’s really what they’re hoping for when they get a guy.”
Student placement, Anthes added, is about 80 percent for his program. To some, that might not sound very good, but considering that some students enter his program with no intention of working in the field, while other may decide, for a variety of reasons, the field is not for them, “that’s a pretty decent placement,” he said. “The people who want to work in the industry – we have no problem placing them.”
For their own training, he and his colleagues turn to AASP, ASA, and the ICAIA – the Illinois College Automotive Instructors Association, Anthes said.