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National certification puts Morrisville State College automotive students in driver’s seat for careers in new tech-savvy auto industry

MORRISVILLE, N.Y. —Before he even graduates from Morrisville State College, Mike Filosi will most likely have already been recruited by an employer for his skills.

The automotive technology bachelor degree student is among those in demand to fill a wave of positions in an auto industry craving seasoned and highly skilled technicians.

A bulletin board posted in a lab filled with neatly stacked car parts and vehicles lined up for repair bears proof—a lofty list of jobs waiting to be filled by qualified professionals.

“Auto is one of the most in-demand careers in the industry and with a shortage of qualified auto technicians, there are more openings than people to fill them,” said Ron Alexander, chair of the automotive department and a 1989 graduate of the college’s automotive technology associate degree program.

Anchoring a career in today’s automotive industry means students have to know about a lot more than just what’s under the hood.

To keep up with the accelerating pace of vehicle’s today, they have to be tech-savvy and familiar with the latest electronics and sophisticated devices coming on to the auto scene.

And the consummate skills Filosi and other Morrisville State College auto students are receiving are putting them in the driver’s seat.

“We are noted for our auto programs,” Joe Kidd, assistant professor in the automotive department, said. “We are very hands-on and our students’ skill-set is exceptional when they graduate.”

“We have recruiters who come to our campus seeking our students for high-skilled positions with high starting salaries and great benefits,” Alexander said. 

“The industry needs qualified talent and we provide them with qualified professionals,” Kidd said. “Many of our students are recruited by companies and secure jobs in the automotive industry before they even graduate.”

MSC took another step toward preparing its automotive students to keep up with the driving demands of the auto industry, with its recent certification by the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation (NATEF) and the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) of its automotive technology bachelor degree program. The college’s automotive technology—Ford ASSET (Automotive Students Service Education Training) program also received recertification.

The news, which follows an extensive review and analysis, means the programs met or exceeded nationally accepted standards of excellence in areas that included instruction, facilities, and equipment.

“Achieving NATEF certification is a testament to the continuing level of excellence that has been established in the college’s auto programs, which are designed to reflect the most recent advances in the industry and to provide students with the best technical training,” said Dan Akers, director of the Ford ASSET Program. Akers is a 1990 graduate of the college’s automotive technology associate degree program.

“We are very proud of our program and this accomplishment,” Alexander said. “We know to compete in the industry we have to show we are excellent at what we do.”

That’s why the college applied for the voluntary certification which included reviewing records, checking faculty credentials, and performing an on-site evaluation that entailed everything from counting tools to interviewing students.
“Contacts and corporate sponsors look for this certification,” Kidd said. “This gives our already renowned auto program instant credibility nationwide and will assist graduates in their career pursuits.”

Along with the prestigious certification, the college scored the highest rating for faculty quality.

“We have known for a long time that our automotive faculty provides a high quality of instruction to our students,” said David Rogers, provost and chief operating officer at MSC. “The assessment by the evaluation team affirms that fact.”
 
The drive behind Morrisville State College faculty is preparing students to work on today’s modern, sophisticated automobiles that are equipped with extensive electronics that require highly specialized training to service.

“We are always ensuring that our students have top-notch training in the technical aspects of the field,” Kidd said.
It’s no surprise that among 16 faculty members who teach in the program, 15 are Morrisville State College graduates.
“It is affirming to know that each of our faculty members, after leaving as graduates, came back to teach in the program that provided them with a cutting-edge education,” Rogers said.

“We have a wide variety of instructors who have years of experience in the automotive industry from turning wrenches for a living, to past manufacturer trainers and those who graduated from Morrisville State College then continued on to get their master’s degree before returning to Morrisville,” Akers said.

Students are also giving faculty members high marks for taking them from classroom to career.

“My professors at Morrisville pushed me to think outside the box while guiding me as I found my way,” said Benjamin Laudin, manager of the applications engineering team at Hansen Industrial Gearboxes in Verona, Va. “Their help and support had a direct effect on my success today, and I am thankful for all that I learned from them.” Laudin graduated in 2008 with an automotive technology bachelor of technology degree.

“When I left Morrisville, I was very confident in my abilities,” said Morrel Findlay, whose Internet search for colleges took him on a journey from the Caribbean island of Anguilla to Morrisville, to follow in his father’s footsteps by pursuing an automotive career.

“What stood out most to me about Morrisville were the instructors,” he said. “They were very knowledgeable about what was current in the industry and I also liked the small class sizes that allowed for more interaction with them.”

A 2011 graduate of the automotive technology bachelor of technology program, Findlay is now an automotive teacher at a high school in his native homeland.

Current students also echo alums’ sentiments.

“Their (faculty) years of experience really show in labs,” said Steve Absolu, an automotive technology bachelor of technology student from Elmsford. “They pass on their extensive knowledge and they are always available if you need help.”

In addition to expert proficiency, automotive faculty members are master auto technicians with a myriad of field experience. Their strong ties with professional organizations, government agencies, major automobile manufacturers, oil companies and program graduates helps to ensure that the program is at the forefront of automotive industry awareness.

That has companies eagerly eyeing Morrisville State College automotive students.

“Our experience with MSC graduates has been positive,” said Daniel Sturtz, Snap-on Industrial District Sales Manager-New England/ Upstate NY. “They have shown a strong work ethic and a commitment to follow through and stay on task.” Snap-on is a leading US designer, manufacturer and marketer of high-end tools and equipment to professional tool users.

Chris Martensen, National Sales Manager for Bahco, a division of Snap-on Industrial Brands, was impressed when MSC 2010 automotive technology bachelor degree grad Chris Suter joined his company with a well-rounded set of skills and a solid work ethic.

“I don’t think Chris has shied away from any task that he has been given. I can give him a task and he runs with it and returns with a very good product or result in the end,” Martensen said. “If he has a question, he is quick to get the answer and move on. Bottom line, he can work independently and come back with results. That’s what we were looking for and, that is what we got.”

“Our business relies heavily on relationships which we build every day with our customers,” Sturtz said. “I am very happy that we have built a strong relationship with MSC. I certainly hope we can continue to draw from the graduates for future employees of Snap-on.”

For many alumni, those industry ties are still opening doors.

Suter, 24, obtained his current position as a technical sales rep with Bahco in Pittsburg, Pa., through a college connection.

And 25-year-old Gordon Grange, a 2011 automotive technology management bachelor of business administration graduate was already gainfully employed when he was recruited by Snap-on Industrial, through Morrisville.

“I’m so grateful for Morrisville,” said Grange, who was recently offered a job as an Industrial Account Manager with Snap-on Industrial in Brooklyn.

“The real-world business courses I took toward my automotive management degree combined with the hands-on experience I received, greatly prepared me for my career,” he said.

That job readiness provided in modern facilities with the newest, latest and greatest equipment is another feather in the auto program’s cap.

About 75 percent of the work students perform in the programs is hands-on in technologically sophisticated environments.

That was an important factor in Absolu’s decision to attend Morrisville State College.

“I heard the college has a reputation as one of the best auto schools with outstanding facilities and a lot of hands-on lessons,” he said.

That experiential learning is monumental to grads.

“My program was so hands-on,” Suter said. “Knowing exactly how a machine works has helped me do well in my current sale position.”

So have other skills he gained while interacting with faculty, fellow students and others. “One of the things I use on a day-to-day basis is communication skills. Knowing how to communicate is paramount,” he said.
 
While being certified identifies the auto programs’ excellence to recruit more students, it also increases the potential for funding from public and corporate sources. That manifests itself in donations of equipment and vehicles equipped with the latest technology for students to work on in labs. A 2012 Ford Fusion is among recent donations to the Ford ASSET program.

Today’s vehicles are equipped with more complicated and computerized devices in part because of the need for high tech engine controls to meet emissions and fuel-economy standards, advanced diagnostics and new safety features.
It also means faculty has to keep up with learning these new technologies in addition to adapting and continuously seeking ways to meet the industry’s demands.

Technology Drives Change
With all of the changes in the auto industry in the past decade, fixing cars today requires a laptop computer as much as a wrench.

“We’ve seen so many changes just in the past few years,” Kidd said.

New complexities like electronic assist steering, and auto assist parking, mean students’ repertoire of skills also has to keep up with consumers’ hunger to stay connected with personal electronic devices while they’re driving.

“I never thought I would see the day when I would be teaching about a SYNC system which pairs a cell phone through the radio,” Kidd said. “Our graduates are expected to know that and much more.”

They’ll also have to stay on top of what’s new with alternative fuel vehicles as hybrid cars and electric cars gain popularity and the industry steers toward “greening.”

Rounding out their education is how faculty helps arm students, giving them a mix of experience with formal training, diagnostic problem-solving and computer skills.

As the only campus with its own parts department and live service desk, both run by students, they are also gaining communication skills performing live work on faculty, staff and student vehicles.

“Basically, anything you experience in a dealership, you will see here,” Alexander said referring to the college’s Automotive Technology Building, equipped with a showroom and technologically advanced labs where students can also hone their skills assembling cars.

So far, they’ve transformed a 1988 Ford Mustang into a high-performance drag car and also built a 1933 Ford hot rod from the frame up. The car, a kit donated by Factory Five Racing Inc., was given away during a drawing at the Syracuse Nationals in 2011.

An Auto Club has students actively involved on-campus with various events, including community and charity events, and beyond the classroom—participating in the SEMA Show, the premier automotive specialty products trade event held every year in Las Vegas.

The college’s auto program has also garnered recognition as a site for the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills Competition and the Tenneco Technology Tour (T3) Monroe Ride and Drive program, a national training program.

Degrees and Facilities
Morrisville State College’s automotive program started in 1933 with one degree. Today, the college offers bachelor degrees in automotive technology and automotive technology management and associate degrees in automotive technology and autobody technology, and has approximately 275 automotive students.

Facilities include an award-winning Automotive Technology Building with nine state-of-the art laboratories and a showroom, and an Autobody Building with a modern-day lab, superior air purification equipment, a laser measuring device capable of determining frame damage, and a Garmat Paint Station.

Morrisville State College sets the world in motion for students. Curriculums are enriched with applied learning and pave the way for opportunity at both the Morrisville and Norwich campuses. An action-oriented, interactive learning lab, the college is a national leader in technology. Lauded for its exemplary, innovative and effective community service programs, the college was named to the 2012 President’s Higher Community Service Honor Roll. Visit www.morrisville.edu to experience, Morrisville in motion.