Ford scholarships for future techs increase $1 million this year

Jan. 1, 2020
Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills continues to help answer the demand for more skilled automotive technicians by offering $7 million in scholarships to this year's competitors ? $1 million more than last year. In addition to offering millions in scholarsh
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Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills continues to help answer the demand for more skilled automotive technicians by offering $7 million in scholarships to this year's competitors — $1 million more than last year.

In addition to offering millions in scholarship opportunities, the unique automotive competition will bring 50 pairs of the best young automotive technicians to Ford World Headquarters on June 24 to represent their high schools and home states in a quest for the coveted national title, as well as a chance of a lifetime to join renowned race team Roush Fenway Racing for a week.

"These 100 students have proven they are the best young auto technicians in the country," says John Morse, Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills manager. "To reach the national finals, they have exemplified trouble-shooting skills and technical savvy in addition to automotive expertise."

More than 8,000 auto tech students nationwide began the quest for the national title in May. After taking written exams at their high schools, the top teams were selected to move on to their state's hands-on competition where they diagnosed and repaired "bugged" 2008 Ford Escapes.

The winning duo from each state will now travel to Dearborn for a shot at the national title. The pairs will have their knowledge tested again with a written examination followed by the exciting finale on the front lawn of Ford World Headquarters in a race against the clock and each other to perfectly repair identically "bugged" 2008 Ford Focuses.

"Skilled automotives technicians are in extremely high demand, and programs such as Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills are a critical to meeting this growing need," says John Nielsen, AAA Approved Auto Repair and Auto Buying Network director. "To reach the national finals, these students have displayed a commitment to excellence that we hope they will carry on to a successful career in the automotive industry."

Following are some of the unique stories that can be found among the 2008 national finalists.

Caitlin Short, a 2008 graduate of Vale High School, Vale, Ore., will be the first female student since 2005 to make the national finals. She was one of the 346 young women who competed at the high school level and 18 who made it to state competitions.

Short, who achieved the highest score on Oregon's state competition qualifying exam, began studying automotive technology at the encouragement of her older sister.

"Though my sister wasn't exactly mechanically inclined, she enjoyed it, so I took my first class during my freshman year and have loved it ever since," says Short. "I didn't know a thing before I started taking auto tech, but I really liked taking things apart and putting them back together. Studying auto tech seemed to just click with me."

Short will study electrical engineering at the University of Idaho in the fall and hopes for a career in automotive engineering and design.

His love of cars and dedication to auto tech studies helped propel 2008 Provo High School graduate Austin Springer to the national finals despite being faced with adversity in his life. Instructor Coleman McVea says Springer had to overcome many challenges to pursue his spot on the Provo High School team, including losing his father at an early age and living in several foster homes. While in school, Springer worked as an assistant manager at a health foods store and prepared for the finals after work and on weekends. Springer hopes to use Auto Skills scholarships or other financial awards to study automotive technology.

Springer's teammate and fellow graduate, Benjamin Hernandez, is a Native American from a single-mother household. Hernandez, whom McVea also described as smart and hard-working, is employed in an auto tech internship training program at an independent auto shop in Provo and plans a career in engineering.

Kyle Shanahan, a 2008 graduate of Willowbrook High School in Villa Park, Ill., is following in his father's footsteps by studying automotive technology, to prepare to take over the family's repair shop business.

"My dad encouraged me to pursue what interests me, but ever since I was 12 and saw how the shop operated, I knew I wanted to learn more about auto technology," says Shanahan. "My dad competed in programs similar to the Auto Skills competition when he was my age, so for me to go to the national finals is a big accomplishment for both of us. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree."

Shanahan will continue to work at his father's Lombard, Ill., shop until beginning his post-secondary studies at WyoTech with his Auto Skills state scholarship prize.

Five schools that placed in the top 10 in 2007 are among this year's national finalists — defending champions San Luis Obispo High (Calif.), third-place Doherty High (Colo.), fifth-place Fauquier High (Va.), ninth-place Vale High (Ore.) and tenth-place Maui High (Hawaii). Two of those high-flying schools are returning to the finals for a record number of years.

Vale (Ore.) High School Instructor Merle Saunders will bring a team to the finals for the 21st time, the longest known record in competition history. Many veteran instructors consider Saunders' students as "the team to beat."

"Once you have a tradition of going to the national finals, students are motivated to continue the tradition," Saunders says of his school's success. "The students believe if their classmates can make it to the national finals, they can too. Additionally, working with dedicated, hard-working students helps to keep Vale High School's tradition alive."

Under Saunders' tutelage, teammates Short and Lance Erickson are practicing an average of six-to-seven hours a day, six days a week and reviewing 1,300 written questions to prepare for the national finals.

Maui High School in Kahului, Hawaii, will send a team to the national finals for the 15th year — the competition's second-longest record. Instructor Neill Nakamura keeps it simple and advises his students, "A good attitude will give you good results." This year's team members Rodney Gazmen, a rising senior at Maui High, and 2008 graduate Louel Valdez both have plans to continue their automotive technology education after high school.

For many students, the Auto Skills competition scholarships are essential to continuing their automotive technology education. A North Dakota student competing in Dearborn said he could not continue his education without financial assistance. He is one of at least half of the 2008 national finalists expected to continue their auto tech studies using the scholarships won at the state competitions.

"Our goal is to spark the interest of young people in automotive technology careers, and we're pleased we can help them continue their education through the financial awards," says Steve DeAngelis, Global Manager of Technical Support Operations at Ford Motor Company. "It's even more rewarding for us when we see students who participated in the Auto Skills program complete their studies and work at Ford, as many do."

The students may use their scholarships to finance their participation in a wide range of programs, including automotive technology, engineering and collision repair, at technical schools such as Universal Technical Institute (UTI) and WyoTech, four-year colleges and universities and the Ford ASSET program.

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