by Sue Webber
Osseo Senior High School’s Automotive Technology training program, the first in the state to be accredited, is helping students become job-ready.
“There are not very many high school programs in Minnesota of this caliber,” said Julie Halverson, coordinator of career and technical education for the Osseo School District. “There are a maximum of five auto programs like this in Minnesota.”
Matt Beukema is the teacher for Osseo’s Automotive Technology program. He also is an ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) certified technician who brings 11 years of teaching experience with him, including stints at Forest Lake and Hastings High Schools, as well as work in the automotive industry.
This year, he has 25 students in a Basic Car Care class, 50 juniors and seniors in Introduction to Automotive Technology and 10 seniors in Advanced Automotive Technology. The introductory class is one period a day for three semesters, while the advanced class is two periods a day for an entire school year.
All but one of the students in the basic class intend to pursue automotive technology for a career, according to Beukema.
Chakong Yang, a senior in Advanced Automotive Technology, said, “I love this class. Everyone knows everyone, and we are all brothers in here”
Students in the class study brakes, suspension, electrical systems and engine performance.
“With all the advanced technology in cars, it’s almost scary to get under the hood,” Beukema said. “This goes a long way toward getting the students comfortable.”
Students are able to leave the program after the second year with ASE certification, he said.
“We’re able to place students at dealerships that mentor them,” he said. “It’s absolutely awesome. Dealerships can watch the students as they move up through school. It’s like the minor leagues. They’re able to identify who they want before the student applies.”
Reese Tramm, a senior in Advanced Automotive Technology, said, “This auto program is a great one because it helps me learn how to succeed in the automotive industry.”
Most of his students are male, but Beukema is working to get an all-female class to introduce automotive technology to more women.
“The field is male-dominated,” Beukema said. “But there’s a crazy demand for females. Females are the ones who often bring vehicles into the dealership and many times they feel they’re being taken advantage of. Women tend to trust other women.”
John Anderson, a senior in Advanced Automotive Technology, said, “I enjoy the program so much because it’s what I enjoy doing. I have been working on cars since I was little and just love it. What I like about this program is that it prepares me for my post-high school plans to enter the automotive field.”
Certain standards have to be met before an automotive technology program can be certified by NATEF (National Automotive Technical Education Foundation), Halverson said. Teachers are required to participate in 20 hours of training each summer.
“Our program certifies in maintenance and light repairs,” she said. “We have connections with industrial partners who provide paid internships for students in 11th and 12th grades. They can do job shadowing and employable skills training so they get to know the profession early.”
The program is directly linked to post-secondary partners. Osseo students who complete the program by the end of their senior year can go on to enter Hennepin Technical Center with 16 credits, Halverson said.
“The opportunities are phenomenal,” she said. “According to labor statistics, there will be 13,000 (auto mechanic) jobs available by 2020 in Minnesota. If we don’t start turning out students (trained to do the work) there will be shortages.”
The Osseo district has always been supportive of the automotive program, Halverson said. But the impetus for Osseo’s program to become certified began when the district realized that No Child Left Behind “didn’t work for every student.”
“We have to prepare kids for something after high school and make sure that kids come out with the right skills,” she said. “All our programs are of the rigor expected by industry.”
Some local dollars were used for the program, along with a federal grant designed for career and technical education, she said.
“The teachers have to be of a certain caliber and licensure,” Halverson said.
She also credits a “fantastic advisory committee” that includes post-secondary representatives, BMW of Minnetonka, several technical college representatives and other educators.
Robert Perdaems, principal at Osseo Senior High School, noted that there are “very specific expectations” to meet NATEF certification
“It’s all about being job-ready,” he said. “NATEF certification puts us ahead of the game. We’re doing post-high school certification at the high school level. We wanted to take our program to the next level so our students leave very well prepared for post-secondary and to be job-ready.”
The automotive technology program has drawn numerous students from other high schools in the Osseo district, as well as from outside the district, Perdaems said.
Beukema said he started working as a mechanic when he was a 16-year-old high school student in Hayfield, Minn., near Rochester. He funded his automotive engineering technology degree at Minnesota State University-Mankato by working as a truck driver and by fixing up cheap cars to sell them.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in technology education at Bemidji State and a master’s degree in teaching and learning at St. Mary’s University.
“I love what I do every day,” he said.
Beukema is married and the father of a first-grade daughter and a son in pre-school, both of whom love helping their dad work on cars.
“My first-grader did her first valve cover gasket on a neighbor’s car last week,” he said.
Osseo High School’s automotive program accepts donations of cars that students can work on, according to Beukema.