Turning wrenches to success
Automotive Service Technology program provides students with hands-on career options
For student Isaac Rivera working on cars has always been a favorite pastime — with many happy memories working alongside his father.
“After graduating from high school in 2018 I spent some time working in various jobs,” says Rivera. “After doing this for a couple of years I started to think about my future. I had worked with my dad fixing cars he bought at auctions, and I began pondering whether this was something I could make a living doing.”
YVC’s Automotive Service Technology (AST) program focuses on providing a quality, affordable pathway into the profession. By combining theory and design elements such as system operations, system functions and diagnostics with practical applications and hands-on work on vehicles, YVC prepares students like Rivera to start their careers as qualified automotive technicians.
According to Automotive Service Technology Instructor Murray Ruggles, YVC’s program provides an affordable local option for students with the same accreditation standards as larger institutions.
For Rivera, a big draw to the profession and YVC’s program was the tactile nature of the work and training.
“I’m not someone who can sit down for long periods of time,” says Rivera. “I’ve struggled in the classroom environment in the past and like how YVC’s program focuses on hands-on instruction. The instructors are also really nice guys who have patience and are willing to work with students, which has made the experience even better.”
The program also focuses on different categories of vehicles, says Rivera, and provides students with training they wouldn’t normally experience until much later in their careers.
“The teaching in YVC’s program is applicable to different industries including passenger and diesel vehicles, as well as farm equipment and industrial mechanics,” says Rivera. “The program has prepared me well to enter the workforce by providing training on areas that are more advanced than I’d expect to encounter as an entry-level tech, including diagnosing and rebuilding engines and transmissions. We’ve been exposed to a variety of different aspects of the automotive industry.”
Thanks to the education and support he has received from the college’s AST program Rivera is on track to graduate with an associate of applied science degree this spring. He’s also applied for an internship opportunity with Boeing, something he doesn’t think he would have tried for without the support he received on campus and through networking opportunities.
“I’ve really enjoyed the community aspect of the program,” Rivera said. “I’ve been able to meet with and learn from members of the Sun Country Mustang Club and Vintiques Club.” Through these connections Rivera made an impact on members of the Vintiques and earlier this year was selected to receive a $1,000 scholarship to help offset program and tool costs.
Another student who is excited to train for a career in the automotive field is Cathy “Kat” Elkins. Elkins, a single mom of an 18-year-old and an 11-year-old who suffers from auditory neuropathy — a rare type of hearing loss, wasn’t able to pursue a degree or work full-time earlier in her life due to the care her youngest son needed. After he received a cochlear hearing implant and his educational needs were being met, Elkins decided it was time to make a change for her family’s future — returning to school after a nearly 20-year break.
She began her studies during winter quarter and is ready to show her children the benefits of having a college degree while making an impact on the lives of others.
“My oldest son is graduating this year and I wanted to set a good example for him,” says Elkins. “I always liked working on cars and as a single mom I’ve struggled to find an affordable mechanic. I decided I wanted to train to become a mechanic so I can help others in similar situations to me.”
Although she only recently began her studies, YVC’s program and classmates have already had an impact on her.
“I’m learning lessons every day,” says Elkins. One lesson she says she’s learned is that it’s OK to make mistakes. It helps you learn and improve. She plans to eventually open a garage with fellow classmates and support single parents.
Elkins is also involved in a state program, called Washington State Hands and Voices — a parent driven organization dedicated to supporting families with children who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing. She is dedicated to helping other parents learn about resources and how to advocate for their children, something that she says can be hard to navigate in the Yakima Valley.
Rivera and Elkins are also working to provide a place for automotive students to engage and connect with each other. The pair are both serving as officers and working to reestablish the Automotive Technology Club and prepare for SkillsUSA competitions — both of which faced challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. Both were also recently awarded $750 scholarships by The Sun Country Mustang Club.
YVC’s program has been evaluated and accredited by the Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) Education Foundation at the highest level of the Master Automotive Service Technology Training (MAST) Program and offers training in all nine ASE areas of automotive diagnostics and repair with emphasis on electronic and computer-integrated systems found in today’s automobiles. Making it an excellent option for students in the Yakima Valley who, like Rivera and Elkins want to blend their passion for cars with a career.
Enrollment is open to those who qualify at the beginning of fall, winter and spring quarters of each academic year. Visit the AST website to learn more.