Dave Macleod Details the Nationally-Accredited Auto Mechanic Program
The RCTC Automotive Mechanic program recently received accreditation by the National Automotive Technician Education Foundation (NATEF). The accreditation effort, led by Instructor and Program Leader Dave MacLeod, culminated in the program receiving this specialized recognition last August. This is the first time the program has received this accreditation, which recognizes technician training programs that have met industry standards of excellence. Few collegiate programs earn this level of accreditation.
We asked MacLeod questions about what accreditation means for his students, as well as his experiences with the Auto Mechanic program (soon to be known as the Automotive Technician program this fall) and why he loves teaching.
This accreditation says that our students are better prepared for the industry when they graduate. It makes them more employable, and hopefully they can start at a higher wage. NATEF accreditation is something we’ve been wanting for a long time, and it’s a huge process to go through. We had to go through all of the NATEF curriculum, make sure we covered all of the same topics, and had all of the equipment to teach it accurately, had the facilities and had the cars to work on.
Many programs never receive this accreditation. What does your program have that others don’t?
One of the things NATEF is big on is support from administration. That’s because the industry changes so quickly. We want to have a system in place to upgrade our teaching so that we’re teaching newer and newer stuff all the time. That requires some financial backing from administration. We’re very, very fortunate that the administration at RCTC is very supportive of what we do.
Can you tell us a little about the Auto Mechanic program?
We’re a two-year program, and we literally teach every aspect of automotive repair, with a huge focus on electronics. Virtually every component on the car these days has an electronic connection somehow. We have to focus on that knowledge and make sure that our students can understand the electricity and understand the signals. Automotive technicians are really, in certain aspects, like the IT department at the College here – the wizards that make all our computers talk to one another.
When I started in 2000, we didn’t have enough students. One of the first things I did was to call potential students to have them come to visit the program. We worked very hard to recruit students, and within four years we had to start a waiting list because we had too many students. We still have a waiting list today, and we’ve had full first-year classes every year for 12 or 13 years now.
You worked in the auto industry before becoming a teacher. What prompted the change?
After I graduated from the auto program here in 1977, I was a mechanic for 27 years. I worked with a very good friend of mine, Gary Komaniecki, who teaches (in) the Mayo High School auto shops, and he convinced me to try teaching. He saw something that I didn’t know I had, some ability to communicate. I had never had any inkling to try teaching at all, but the summer of 1999, there was a retirement at RCTC and a retirement at Mayo. His [Komaniecki’s] wife said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if Gary got the high school job,” and I got the RCTC job. We kind of looked at each other and said, “Yeah, that’s never going to happen. ”And then it did! It took a few years to get the hang of things, but it is so much fun working with young people who want to learn. I still enjoy it today.
What’s the biggest piece of advice you give your students?
I encourage students to get a job in the industry to gain experience. We can’t teach experience. They have to experience it to learn it, so working in the industry, even if it’s doing detailing or oil changes, or light service work, gets you some necessary skills on how to handle cars, what to look for. The exposure to the vehicles is what they desperately need to learn to know what types of things to look for. A lot of our students start in service bays doing light service work, and then work into the shop positions and become full-time technicians.