In the five years that director Fred Brown has been with the program, Aims Community College’s Automotive and Technology Center has grown to be a nationally recognized training center for the future automotive technicians.
“I’ve been here since it was like that corn field,” he said, pointing to the open field next to the college’s building in Windsor.
Brown came to Aims’ automotive program after President Marsi Liddell extended him an offer when he retired from the automotive industry.
The 48,000-square-foot learning facility closely follows the layout of a dealership and offers students a chance to learn the basics of a two-year applied science degree before advancing on to study automotive service technology, collision repair and refinishing, light diesel repair, and upholstery.
Brown likens the approach to educating his students to a quote from hockey player Wayne Gretzky about going for where the puck is going to be versus where it is at the moment.
Students study techniques that apply to where the industry is going, not just where it is now.
“My instructors can train alongside my students on the front end of the latest technology,” he said.
The facility includes a wide range of tools, both new and old, in order prepare the students for any garage they work in after graduation.
In order to educate their students in the most effective way possible, the program teaches through a “theory, demonstration and application” model, Brown said.
Students start in the classroom, where they learn the history of the automotive industry and how to make different repairs conceptually.
From there, they advance into classrooms that hold fully functioning simulations of each system of a car that can be manipulated by the professor to teach them specific repairs.
Finally, the students are introduced to the service shop, where they make basic repairs, and then on to the collision repair shop to learn to break down and reassemble each car.
“The hardest part is getting everything down to where you’re comfortable and trusting your instincts,” three-year student Jagger Watkins said.
Watkins was one of three Aims students that competed in the regional SkillsUSA competition for automotive repair.
The competition offered students a chance to see how they compared against other schools and talk trade secrets with industry experts, Watkins said.
“At first I was really stressed and then I got there and all fell together,” four-year student Mike Thompson said.
For many of the students, Aims gave them a chance to learn their craft without paying exorbitant fees and tuition.
“Automotive is in my blood. My dad did it and painted cars; I was always kind of a part of that,” Thompson said. “When I looked at automotive, it just became a natural fit.”