By TANISHA KNUTZEN
The automotive technology lab at Pima Community College’s Downtown Campus is a world apart from the traditional classes offered at Pima.
The non-traditional learning environment is an ideal setting for students who are looking for something to take them outside of the confined walls of a normal classroom and into a place of partial freedom and full exploration.
Numerous cars and equipment have been donated by dealerships, colleges, manufacturers and individuals, to ensure that students have maximum hands-on opportunities.
Full-time instructor David Stephenson and his fellow instructors emphasize practicing skills through physical learning.
“In a typical classroom, you would have a lecture hall, where a teacher writes on a blackboard,” Stephenson said. “If you have a lab, you might go to the lab portion of it and have students gathered around one vehicle, touching it one at a time. All of this is independent instruction.”
Students from many different backgrounds, ages and lifestyles pursue the self-paced curriculum.
“Our curriculum appeals to the widest possible audience, but the level of instruction is consistent from student to student,” said Bryan Goldkuhl, another full-time instructor.
Hands-on work especially appeals to students who are auditory or tactile learners, Goldkuhl added.
The program offers flexibility for students who have a hectic life schedule outside of the school walls, by making a variety of instructional times available throughout the week.
Jimmy Pham, a first-semester student, enjoys being outside of a traditional classroom and in an environment where he has more opportunity to actively learn and practice his newly acquired skills.
“I couldn’t see myself going anywhere else,” Pham said. “You’re working while listening. It’s not very class-like.”
Pham is currently working towards earning his mechanic certification. He plans to return to his hometown in Vietnam, where he will use his skills and certification to open his own shop.
“Cars are something I like, and this is something I can see myself doing,” Pham said. “The car industry is booming in Vietnam and that’s where I plan on going.”
Students have an opportunity to earn either a technical certificate or credit toward an Associate of Applied Science degree.
“We train students on all the necessary skills to gain an entry-level position, and also prep them for taking their mechanic and technician certification,” Stephenson said.
PCC’s program is accredited by the National Automotive Technician Education Foundation/ Automotive Service Excellence, which requires an intensive on-site inspection every five years.
During the inspection, accreditors examine equipment, curriculum and the skills students are learning.
This type of accreditation requires instructors to consistently change and update their curriculum to match the newest skills and knowledge being produced in the technology and automobile world.
Upon completion of the program, graduates have a high success rate for earning an entry-level mechanic position at major dealerships and automotive shops, according to program statistics.
If being outside of a normal classroom, having a self-paced curriculum and being free to roam in an independent learning environment doesn’t appeal to students, perhaps the availability of one-on-one instruction will.
Instructors are available to answer even the simplest of questions.
“I like that I can ask questions, even if it’s something that has an obvious answer,” Pham said. “There’s always someone to help, someone to point something out to me or show me what to do.”