CTE Offers In-Person Classes

Masked students working in an auto repair classroom.
Rebecca A. Eckland

If you are putting off pursuing a certificate or degree because you don’t want to take online classes, we’ve got some good news for you: Career Technical Education classes (CTE) like diesel, automotive, welding, machining, HVAC and Advanced Manufacturing are all offering in-person options thanks to new safety and social distancing protocols so that you can get the hands-on learning experience you want (and need.) 

We caught up with a few of our CTE instructors who told us about their strategies for keeping students safe, and why now is the time to work toward your degree in one of these hands-on fields. 

Masks and Safety Protocols

TMCC’s automotive and diesel programs are following new safety protocols that enable students to take these classes in an in-person format. These protocols include wearing a mask, safety glasses, new socially distancing standards (which also means smaller class sizes), and a heightened attention on hygiene and cleaning protocols.  Although the changes are many, what hasn’t changed is the goal of each class in these two CTE programs to get students the hands-on experience and knowledge they will need to become valuable entry-level employees. 

Jeremy Coggin, who teaches in the Diesel program, said he conducts his classes—including his “lectures”— in the 30,000-foot diesel shop, which more than allows for proper social distancing among his students. “We don’t mind holding class sessions in the shop, because we have two big screen TVs and two smartboards, which makes it easy to hold lecture sessions in there,” he said.

Diesel Instructor Kyle Smith also remarked that the size of the diesel lab has enabled him to create a socially-distanced lab environment. “I have my students work on equipment in a way that keeps them socially distanced. They have masks and safety glasses on, and there’s more than enough room for them to work on their own equipment,” he said.

Students in the automotive program are also socially distanced, which means each student has his or her own bench, set of tools and side of the engine.  Both programs remarked that students don’t seem to mind these changes. “I haven’t had any problems with students wearing their masks,” said Coggin. “Everyone’s been really gracious, and they understand why they need to. Everyone shows up every single day with their mask on.” 

Coggin believes this is due, in part, to the difficult transition to online learning that was made in the spring semester. “It was very hard to teach people how to work on [this kind of equipment] online. A lot of our students select this line of work because they are good at learning by doing—not necessarily learning from a textbook,” he said.

In addition to wearing masks and social distancing, students also actively clean their equipment and tools after every class. This, too, is something students have embraced as a part of the learning experience in this “new normal.” “My only concern is that...sometimes when students clean the laptops, they are a little liberal with the liquid cleaner,” said Coggin, laughing. “But the thing is, they want to be here and they want to continue having in-person classes.”

Automotive students, too, have embraced the new protocols wholeheartedly. “I was expecting students to be upset about the new protocol,” said Automotive Instructor Wyatt Ziebell. “But, I think they are just really glad they are able to take these classes in-person versus being at home and trying to learn how to fix a tire from their computer.” 

Why the Time for CTE is Now

If you were thinking of taking a “gap year” think again: this is the perfect time to start or continue your CTE journey. Yes, that’s right: there’s a silver lining to the protocols put in place thanks to COVID-19 that can have a direct impact on your education and your ability to advance in your future career. One of these unexpected perks is a richer instructor-to-student ratio. 

“Students have more opportunity to get that physical reinforcement in class. So, instead of having 3–5 people on the same piece of equipment, there’s only 1-2 students on that piece of equipment. Normally, some students would just sit back and cruise through the class, but because there’s more attention on each of them, they have to step up and learn in a way they didn’t have to before,” Smith said. 

Coggin has also noticed a similar change in his diesel classes. “The smaller classes are bringing out some of the hidden abilities of students who would normally sit back. You find out they might be one of the best students, and they are finding that out about themselves, too, and that gives them confidence moving forward. Students are definitely less intimidated to ask questions in these smaller classes.”

If not having to share your equipment or tools and more attention from the instructor sounds good—just wait, there’s more!  Because there are less students, instructors tend to use more of a discussion rather than a lecture model (which invites more student participation.) And, if you’re hoping to get hired sometime soon, wearing masks and practicing these safety protocols while you’re in a shop environment are practical skill sets you’ll definitely need in your future workplace.

Finally, both programs have made, or are in the process of making, major changes to positively impact student progress and success. The automotive program now offers block scheduling, so students can elect to take their classes all in the morning, afternoon or at night. Classes meet four days a week for five weeks, which also helps students to retain the information they learn from class-to-class.  This new structure also means that if you’re in the program, you’re likely to finish the academic semester with some sort of credential in hand. 

“These block classes enable students to finish a Skills Certificate in one semester, then a Certificate of Achievement and a degree at the end,” said Automotive Instructor Sam Byington. 

The diesel program has begun working more closely with the needs of the industry and has just submitted a series of revisions to the Curriculum Review Committee this week. “We’re in the middle of revamping our entire program,” said Coggin. “We’re bringing this program back to what industry truly needs...and wants.”

(Re)Start Your Career Strong

The most obvious perk of training yourself to work as either an automotive or diesel diagnostician is this: you’re basically guaranteed a job when you graduate. According to Coggin, this is especially true for diesel mechanics. “Right now, there’s a shortage of about 5,000 diesel mechanics nationwide just in the rental area. We’re constantly in contact with people in the industry locally, and they are having a hard time finding mechanics to do the job. It’s going to continue to be a need with more cars and trucks that run diesel engines.” 

To support student success in this discipline, the program has been implementing several changes which, in addition to an updated curriculum, include: 

  • Updated equipment
  • New engine trainers
  • Laptops, so that every student has one at their bay where they can look up diagnostic software online
  • Smartboards 
  • New technology

The training students receive in the program will give them the skills they need for an entry-level position. To become an expert both Coggin and Smith agree: it takes time and experience. However, knowing the basics—and where to find the information you need—will give you an advantage over other mechanics who are just starting out.  Also, these students will not stay in an entry-level position for long. 

Plus, hands-on learning certainly has its benefits. “Being hands-on in our shop is really beneficial, because this is where students can make mistakes,” said Coggin. “This is where they can learn and move forward...they absorb the mistake and we move on and correct it. Whereas if you’re in a job where you’re paid by the job, you would be fixing your mistakes, and not getting paid for your time.”

In addition to late start, in-person classes in the automotive and diesel programs, TMCC’s Technical Sciences division has open enrollment options that are accepting new students up until Nov. 1. These programs include: HVAC, Welding, Machining and Advanced Manufacturing

For more information about Applied Technologies at TMCC, contact the division at 775-856-5300.