Hersey students train for automotive careers after developing passion, skills in school

Inside the Automotive Technology classroom at John Hersey High School, students are performing tire repairs, building cars and discovering their futures.

Seniors Ryan Buch and Cassy Thiel both developed a passion for automotive technology while at Hersey. Under the guidance of their teacher Jim Van Bladel, both have taken a sequence of courses in the Automotive Service Career Pathway and developed hands-on expertise.

They have also earned industry certifications that show their knowledge in the field. The learning experiences and credentials, they said, have helped shape their next steps.

Ryan has been accepted to Southern Illinois University’s prestigious automotive technology program, while Cassy will begin an automotive apprenticeship with Napleton's Arlington Heights Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram in the spring.

Students at all levels are gaining real-world skills and experiences to help them thrive in the field.

In August, 56 Hersey students in the Automotive Systems class – an introductory course that teaches hands-on skills and theoretical knowledge of the automobile – earned Valvoline certifications demonstrating their knowledge in engine oil and automotive fluids.

Thirteen students in Automotive Diagnostics earned their first entry-level certification in the area of engine repair while students in the level three course, Vocational Automotive, are working toward earning all nine entry-level certifications from the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE for short).

Developing a passion for cars

Going into freshman year, Ryan thought he might become a teacher. Working on cars was something he did on the side, outside of school, with his dad. He took an introductory autos course as a freshman, and soon realized automobiles could be more than a hobby.

“Mr. Van Bladel showed me this can be a career, and it can be a very successful career,” said Ryan. “I’ve completely changed what I want to do because of these classes.”

Ryan has taken several courses in the Automotive Service Career Pathway and has seven ASE entry-level certifications.

He said the skills and knowledge has gained in Hersey’s automotive courses impressed those around him when he visited SIU.

Cassy started in the Automotive Service Career Pathway as a junior. Although her grandfather owned an auto body shop, she said she didn’t have much experience with cars and wanted to develop basic automotive maintenance skills.

As she learned how to repair electrical systems and perform brake jobs, she discovered a passion for being in the shop and working on cars. She continues to take courses in the pathway and hasn’t looked back.

“It’s the hands on portion of it that I love,” Cassy said. “It was something I didn’t think I was going to (like) but after I’ve been doing it for a year, I find that it’s something I can do for the rest of my life and it’s something I would enjoy doing.”  

As part of her apprenticeship that begins next spring, Cassy will work with a master technician. The Napleton Auto Group will also will help pay for her first set of tools, the cost of training, as well as pay the cost of her education in the field.

What are industry certifications and how do they help students?

Not only do industry certifications prepare students like Ryan and Cassy for college and careers, the credentials help students stand out.

Industry certifications, which are administered by third party organizations, show students have mastered skills in a particular area. Benefits include increased job prospects, marketability to employers and employability, as well as options for postsecondary education.

Nearly 40 industry-recognized credentials are offered to District 214 students in various career pathways, including automotive technology, culinary arts, information technology and health science.

In the Automotive Service Career Pathway, students can gain industry credentials from ASE, Hunter Engineering Company, Valvoline, Snap-On and other automotive industry organizations.

“The fact that we’re able to take ASE tests is huge,” said Ryan.  “It’s a really positive image on our job applications and trying to get scholarships.”

Ryan and Cassy both agree that the experiences they have had in the autos program at Hersey have helped them prepare for what lies ahead. They credit the learning environment their teacher has created for challenging them and building their confidence.

“I came in almost with no experience and yet over the last year I felt at home,” Cassy said. “I love being down here. Our teacher (Mr. Van Bladel) is fantastic. He’s a great teacher and he also has a great connection to the students.”