Kerry Lippold is a high school student who is getting used to the college routine.
Just like Colton Carey and Grant Taylor before him.
All are — or were — Mahomet-Seymour High School students with an interest in and an aptitude for the automotive repair industry.
M-S, like many area schools, doesn’t have the numbers to warrant teaching the subject as a course, but thanks to a partnership with Parkland College, students can still learn about the tricks of the trade.
As a bonus, they not only receive high school credit, but also college credit as well.
Carey and Taylor both graduated from M-S in 2013. Lippold is a current senior.
Carey had years to anticipate the course, which required a daily morning commute to the Parkland College campus.
“In eighth-grade, counselors had us pick our classes for high school and said we can do dual-credit our senior year,” Carey aid. “I picked a path to go through that.”
He was so enamored with the work, he has made it a career. Carey works for Worden-Martin, in Savoy.
Taylor participated in the program as both a junior and a senior.
He didn’t have to wonder if he’d like the job.
“I’ve been turning wrenches since I was 9 or 10,” Taylor said. “Brakes. Oil. Basic stuff.
“I’d take things apart and put them back together.”
“A couple times my dad wasn’t very happy when I didn’t put it back together right,” Taylor added.
He, too, started working in the profession at Worden-Martin, but has been employed at Shields Auto Mart, in Paxton, for the past 15 months.
Taylor’s family is not surprised.
“When I was little, I had a Kyle Petty trash can full of Hot Wheels,” Taylor said.”I’d take them apart and put them back together.
“My parents knew where I’d go with it.”
Jon Ross, the director of Automotive Technology at Parkland College, said the students who enroll in the program run the gamut as far as experience.
“We get students with previous knowledge and some with zero exposure, but they are interested in it,” Ross said. “We take wherever you’re at.
“If you’re experienced, we can fine-tune it.
“If you have no experience, we can make it happen.”
Parkland has taken steps for more than a decade to ensure that students have an idea of what to expect in advance of enrolling in the dual-credit courses.
“We require that they job-shadow someone,” Ross said.
Lippold believes the knowledge he is gaining this year will be invaluable in the future.
“I’d like to be an engineer and design cars,” Lippold said. “It’s a good experience.
“I thought the more I work on cars, I actually learn a lot.”
The automotive program is one of several available to high schoolers and made possible through the Early College and Career Academy.
There are two classes available in the health professions, one in criminal justice, one in welding, one in computer networking and one in manufacturing.
“We’re talking hundreds of students on our campus,” Ross said.
During the first semester, there were 30 students enrolled in the automotive course, which met daily from 7:30-9:30 a.m. Twenty-one are high school juniors. The other nine are seniors.
The students come from a variety of communities not just in Champaign and Urbana, but also Monticello, Tolono and St. Joseph, in addition to Mahomet.
While in class, the students find a mixture of hands-on options as well as classroom instruction.
“I would say its equal on both parts and that’s very important,” Taylor said. “Taking it apart doesn’t fix the problem. You need to know why it went bad.”
He acknowledges that the appealing aspect is doing the work.
“All mechanics at my age are more gung-ho to get moving on something,” Taylor said. “I enjoyed doing the hands-on stuff, but there are other challenges involved.”
Lippold was surprised at one of the topics discussed.
“We learned ethics, and that helped me out a lot,” Lippold said.
Ross and other teachers in the automotive department, such as Urbana’s David Charney, have established a reputation for excellence that doesn’t make employers hesitant when making a hire.
Taylor was working part-time at Farm and Fleet, but landed a job at Worden-Martin while going through the Parkland program.
“You don’t just get a job at a dealership,” Taylor said. “That gave us an edge.
“Jon Ross gave them a chance to get a decent job. The knowledge I gained (at Parkland), you can’t get anywhere else. There aren’t many four-year universities that offer a program like that.”
Carey, too, is thankful for the chance to get the introduction he did while still in high school.
“I’m glad it caught my eye when it did,” Carey said. “I knew the basics on how a vehicle worked, but it definitely helped me and gave me better knowledge.
“Within a year (at Worden-Martin), I was moving up (from lube tech to helping diagnose problems and helping rebuild engines).”
Carey is pleased by his career path.
“I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m pretty happy where I’m at,” he said. “Maybe I’ll still be working in the automotive industry 20, 30 years from now.”
Taylor found that even with his extensive background in working on cars, he had plenty to learn.
“I thought I knew quite a bit,” he said, “but my knowledge as an adolescent was no match for the wisdom and knowledge of the teachers.
“Everybody thinks they know what they’re doing when they’re starting out, but there’s a lot more involved.”
Even after completing his associate’s degree at Parkland, Taylor discovered one of the facts of the working world.
“It’s a lot different in a shop working on something covered in rust,” he said. “That’s something you can’t learn in a clean environment (at school).”
The dual-credit programs could be referred to as a win-win.
They offer high school students the chance to pursue an interest they couldn’t explore through their schools.
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