New Auto Tech Center revs engines

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Auto Tech student Rodolfo Torres Minjares interned at Santa Fe BMW, where he now works

Auto Tech student Rodolfo Torres Minjares interned at Santa Fe BMW, where he now works

Graduate Nathaniel Sindelar, Class of 2019, in the new Auto Tech Center

Graduate Nathaniel Sindelar, Class of 2019, in the new Auto Tech Center

Auto Tech student Joseph Roark interns at Subaru

Auto Tech student Joseph Roark interns at Subaru

SFCC’s new Automotive Technologies Center

SFCC’s new Automotive Technologies Center

Auto Tech Program vehicle lifts

Auto Tech Program vehicle lifts

Auto Tech Program digital diagnostics station

Auto Tech Program digital diagnostics station

The new Auto Tech Center is thanks to our local voters

The new Auto Tech Center is thanks to our local voters

Main entrance of the Automotive Technologies Center

Main entrance of the Automotive Technologies Center

Automotive grads fill industry demand for skilled technicians

Automotive Technologies students now have room to spread their wings when they attend classes in the spacious, 17,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art Automotive Technologies Center. For years, students gathered in a cramped garage space away from Main Campus where there was very little elbow room. It became more challenging to interact in that tight space with social distancing protocols. That’s all changed thanks to voters who supported local bonds to construct the new facility.

Automotive Technologies Director Julia Furry said, “We’re thrilled to offer more in-person classes this fall in this stunning new space. During the worst of the pandemic, we offered a mix of online and in-person classes. We’re going to keep some online components, but now students will get more extensive hands-on experience.”

To keep pace with industry changes, today’s technicians must become knowledgeable about a growing number of electronic systems as well as electrical and hybrid vehicle technology. The ATC houses three labs and shop space for automotive study. A highlight of the center is an attractive entryway sponsored by Santa Fe Concorso that features automotive photographs and memorabilia. Students will benefit from access to a chassis/suspension lab, an electric lab, an EV/hybrid engine/power train lab, two-pole lifts, alignment racks, and other equipment. The ADA-compliant building has a storage area for engines, a parts department similar to what would be in a dealership, and a gender-neutral restroom.

The ATC was designed to earn a LEED Gold certification and includes a water collection and storage system.

Furry has worked closely with the Automotive Advisory Committee for input on the curricula as well as on the design of the center. “We’re responding to the needs of the industry in Santa Fe and surrounding areas. There is a huge demand for trained certified automotive employees,” explained Furry. “We also listened to community partners who expressed the need for their employees to earn or update their certifications while still working. The program now offers classes at night and on Saturdays.”

Leaders in the automotive business echoed the urgent need for qualified technicians. Zach Brandt, owner/manager of Capitol Ford said, “The demand is very high for skilled and trained technicians; we have a nationwide shortage, and it is a topic of most of our dealer meetings with the manufacturers. Our goal is to keep our kids local to stay local and SFCC will help us do just that.”

Director of Operations for Honda/Subaru of Santa Fe Ted Nime added, “There is a very high demand for trained technicians who are willing to work and take pride in what they do. A lot of folks do not realize their talent or take pride in it.”

Nime, a member of the Automotive Advisory Committee, expressed his excitement about the ATC. “It is state-of-the-art and identical to working in a live working shop. It has been great to be able to give input and advise. Not everyone always remembers everything or understands it until you physically work in a shop.”

Brandt added, “Julia (Furry) is a blessing to the program, we are so blessed to have a former Franchised Dealer running SFCC’s program.”

Getting SFCC’s students introduced to the workplace is often accomplished through internships. Rodolfo Torres Minjares, 22, said, “What I have enjoyed the most while studying at the college is that I got the opportunity to expand my knowledge and also got the opportunity to do an internship at BMW.” He is now employed at Santa Fe BMW, where he does light repairs, such as brake jobs and oil changes. “I work full time from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Evening and Saturday classes will be better for me because It is more flexible and will work with my work hours,” Torres Minjares added. He plans to complete his associate degree in Automotive Technologies next spring. “My goal after completing the program is to move from light repairs to work on anything on a vehicle,” he said.

Another student, Joseph Roark, 19, began the program in Fall 2020 and is working toward his associate degree and seven certificates concurrently. He plans to complete in Summer 2022. “I’m currently working at Subaru of Santa Fe. I am only an express technician. So, my purpose is to do oil changes and tire rotations and look for issues that may need further work.

“What I like about studying at SFCC is the hands-on aspect – being able to physically work on a vehicle and see its moving components and comparing my knowledge from the books. We were in the new building a bit in the Spring semester. I look forward to continuing in the new building. The building is set up in a way that allows us to do a lot more and allows a lot of individual growth.” 

Brandt of Capitol Ford said, “We were in our internship and mentorship process with the college right as Covid hit and now we are looking forward to starting up very soon.” He’s thrilled the college will offer classes in the evening and weekends. “That option allows employees to work during the day while chasing their degree after hours. It is a win-win for us both. At Ford continuing education never stops, there are always updates that the technicians must take to keep their certifications up to date.”

The Automotive Technologies Program is designed to provide students with entry-level employment as automotive technicians. By the time students complete the program, they will earn an A.A.S in Automotive Technologies along with earning certificates in seven competency areas: Automotive Engine Repair, Auto Maintenance and Light Truck Repair, Automatic Transmission Transaxle, Automotive Heating and Air Conditioning, Brakes, Manual Transmission and Drive Train, and Steering and Suspension. SFCC offers a range of classes that prepare students to work on today’s advanced vehicle systems. The program provides students with the background and knowledge to earn Automotive Service Excellence certifications.

National ASE certifications let graduates work anywhere in the country. Nathaniel Sindelar, 26, graduated from SFCC’s program in 2019. “I absolutely love the work. I would not be where I am today if I had not received such a fantastic education from the SFCC automotive program. I briefly worked at Lexus of Santa Fe and at a diesel shop in Santa Fe, but ultimately have settled at a general repair garage in Longmont, Colorado. I completed all of my A-level ASEs shortly after graduating (while the theory was still very fresh) and currently work as a flat-rate technician on mostly Japanese and European cars.

“I really liked the small class sizes. I was able to get extremely hands-on during every class, which would have been much more difficult had the classes been larger. Everything from simple brake jobs to full-on engine rebuilds – each student got to do themselves from start to finish. This is incredibly valuable in an automotive school. 

“I highly valued the connections I made with the staff and other students. To this day I keep in touch with the friends I made in the program, and I know I can reach out to a teacher any time I have a question about the work. These connections have helped me both on personal and professional levels.”

All classes are taught by ASE Certified Technicians. Thanks to partnerships with Snap-On Tools and Matco Tools, students can purchase their tools at a greatly discounted rate. To learn more, visit the Automotive Technologies Program or contact Julia Furry at 505-428-1177 or julia.furry@sfcc.edu.

For information about scholarships, contact SFCC Foundation’s Kelly Marquez Smith, MBA, Director of Annual Giving, 505-428-1175.