Car care: Driving successIowa Central’s Automotive Technology Program puts skills and community first

By Megan Molseed | Storm Lake Times Pilot

Iowa Central Community College’s Automotive Technology Program in Storm Lake goes beyond simply turning wrenches; it focuses on skill-building and fostering community connections. In these Iowa Central classes, students do so much more than just study how to fix cars… they dive in and get their hands dirty, focusing on real-life training to tackle all kinds of automotive issues from basic repairs to electrical diagnostics.

Whether it’s mastering tire repair or navigating intricate electrical systems, students emerge with enough experience to thrive in a competitive industry or to simply keep up with vehicle maintenance on their own time.

A multi-level program

The local college offers five key classes as part of this comprehensive program. There are foundational courses like Auto 1 and Transportation Technology. 

The more advanced pieces of the program include classes like Electrical/Electronic Systems, a course that focuses on DC electrical circuits, batteries, starters and charging systems. 

Another popular class is Automotive Engine Repair. Students taking this course engage in hands-on learning as they disassemble a small block Chevy engine, taking measurements, and reassembling it before finally witnessing it roar back to life in the local campus shop. 

“It is very rewarding for students when we fire up the engines,” Maulsby says. 

Real-world experiences

The Iowa Central courses utilize real-world repair opportunities in their schooling, Maulsby says, giving students an invaluable experience they couldn’t get from a simple textbook.

“We take in teachers’ and students’ cars that have issues related to the competencies in our courses to give students real-world experiences,” the Iowa Central Community College instructor shares. 

Maulsby points out that both the class and the people getting their cars fixed benefit from this idea. 

“The benefit of hands-on experiences, or real-life repairs, is (that) it prepares the students for the jobs they will take when entering the workforce. They have proven they are competent in doing these repairs or adjustments properly,” Maulsby says. 

One of the students’ preferred tasks when it comes to basic repair and maintenance? Using the new tire machine to replace tires, the instructor notes. Maulsby adds that area tire stores often give the local college deals to supply new tires when needed. 

Deeply rooted within the community

Area businesses are often pitching in to help the local program where they can. Some businesses have loaned tools to the program or even provided discounts on necessary supplies. 

“We have great relationships with the area businesses,” Maulsby says. It’s important, the instructor notes, that the community sees that the students are getting the real-life experiences they need  –– experiences that will possibly prepare the students to work for these businesses in the future.

One of the program’s standout features is its adaptability. Maulsby carefully selects projects that challenge students while ensuring they don’t become overwhelmed. 

It is key that the students understand the importance of their work, looking over the vehicles with the customer’s safety in mind, and using their newfound expertise to predict if something needs some type of maintenance. 

In this program, mistakes are viewed as learning opportunities, with Maulsby providing guidance and oversight to ensure quality workmanship.

“When working with young kids, we do have mistakes that happen, but we learn from our mistakes,” Maulsby says. He adds that nothing leaves the shop without thorough inspections. 

“I feel this is such an excellent life class,” Maulsby says, noting that this and other CTE (Career and Technical Education) classes are beneficial.

Maulsby proudly shares stories of students landing multiple job offers within minutes of entering the workforce, highlighting the program’s success in preparing them for lucrative careers.

But it’s not just about jobs, Maulsby says, it’s about life skills too. Whether they fix cars for a living or just for fun, students leave Iowa Central ready for whatever’s next.

“Students currently have such great opportunities for a career in the area, and I am really proud that the wages have increased tremendously around here,” Maulsby said.