Golden West College grooms tomorrow’s techs

From one full-time instructor, few students, and little support from industry, school turns program around

Huntington Beach, Calif.—Students in the automotive technology program at Golden West College have plenty of alternatives close by. Cerritos, Cypress, and Rio Hondo colleges offer robust auto programs less than an hour’s drive to the northeast, as do Santa Ana and Saddleback colleges, to the south. So what makes Golden West stand out? 

“We are in the midst of something great, with a focus on a true work experience,” John Kasabian, the school’s automotive department chair, said.

With its Honda-sponsored PACT (Professional Automotive Career Training) program providing a model, Kasabian said Golden West is creating a work experience component for its generic programs, with the goal of making sure that all of the school’s automotive degrees and certificates stay up to date with modern industry requirements. 

Adjunct instructor James Hulbert agreed, telling Parts & People that Golden West ultimately hopes to get all of its career-minded automotive students into paid internships. “This being Southern California, we’re surrounded by dealerships and repair shops,” Hulbert said, adding that good-paying jobs are available for students who apply themselves.

The program appears to have strong support. The Orange County Automotive Dealer Association provides scholarships and helps students find paid internships at dealerships, while the program’s advisory board is made up of representatives from dealers, independent repair shops, and other schools. Kasabian believes in knowing the needs of his customers, yet he also wants to share best practices with his peers. “Having instructors from other schools on our advisory board helps us exchange ideas,” he said. “It’s good for us and it’s good for them.”  

The automotive labs at Golden West are well stocked with vehicles loaned or donated by Honda, GM, Kia, and Mitsubishi, among others, and there are separate labs for transmission and engine work, both equally well stocked with product in various stages of teardown or assembly.

Equipment is plentiful, too, with numerous hoists, sufficient workbench space, and no fewer than three alignment racks.

“We’re very grateful for the Perkins grants that help us acquire equipment,” Hulbert said, referring to funds given to vocational programs under the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Improvement Act of 2006. The alignment racks are an example,” he said, and so is the school’s Consulab engine bench, which allows students to practice their electrical troubleshooting skills. Hulbert proudly described the machine’s capabilities, pointing out that the Honda Civic engine and HVAC system currently mounted on it were providing his students with opportunities to practice real-world diagnosis and repair techniques.

Before Golden West’s students can practice such skills in the lab they need to have a basic understanding of automobile technology, Kasabian said. The curriculum includes introductory courses in electrics and electronic systems as well as theory of engine performance and diagnostics.

Golden West offers majors in Chassis and Drivetrain and Engine Performance and Emissions, and students can opt for certificates in those areas, too. Either way, Kasabian said, most of the automotive classes qualify as transferrable credit to the California State University system, a tangible benefit for students who want to pursue a four-year degree later on.

Grooming prospective students is also an important part of Golden West’s plan, Hulbert said. Working in cooperation with Coastline Community College, Golden West hosts a regional occupational program (ROP) for several Huntington Beach and Fountain Valley high schools, thus allowing young people to simultaneously learn automobile knowledge and repair skills and acquire college credits. Hulbert said the ROP program is designed as a “pre-internship” experience, which the faculty hopes to expand in the future with the inclusion of other high schools. 

On the other end of the recruiting spectrum, Golden West is working in cooperation with the Assistance League of Huntington Beach to provide learning opportunities for military veterans. The organization has donated several sets of tools for students who are veterans, and also provides annual stipends for veterans graduating from Golden West’s auto program.

With some 400 students in the program this year, Kasabian has found that he needs to add classes — which he sees as a remarkable turnaround. “Just a few years ago the program wasn’t doing so well,” he said. “We only had one full-time instructor, few students, and little support from industry. Now we have four full time faculty and staff members, and lots of students and industry support.”  

Kasabian said he’s planning to add two additional introductory classes next semester and, in fall 2016, launch a diesel passenger car course and an electric vehicle course. As a kickoff to development of the new courses, Kasabian was expecting to take delivery of a donated Nissan Leaf within a few days.

As with any school-to-career program, challenges are plentiful. “It’s a lot of work keeping the internships viable and placing students,” Kasabian said. “And finding time to write curriculum in between teaching classes and all the other stuff we do to keep the program moving along is difficult.”

Despite the challenges, Kasabian is clearly happy with the way things are going. “Our administration is fully committed to what we want to do,” he said. “It’s an exciting time.”

Parts & People

Parts & People is published monthly by Automotive Counseling and Publishing Company, Inc., a Colorado corporation, P.O. Box 18731 Denver, CO 80203, 303-765-4664. President-Lance Buchner. Founded by Lance Buchner and Dave Lucia.