This article appeared in the Oct. 8, 2019, issue of the student newsletter.
If you walked into the engine technology shop at Cedar Valley this particular Thursday, you'd be greeted by a friendly bulldog who almost forces you to pet him. He weaves through motorcycles and ATVs trying to walk out the back door to get some fresh air. A current student and a former student call him back before he can escape.
It's part of the program's open and communicative environment — one that's full of military veterans.
"Some of our veterans do have anxiety issues. That's why there's a fur-child running around here," said Latesia "Boo" Moreno, the Engine Technology program coordinator. "They feel a lot better coming out of here. I think it's the process that they go through of saying, 'OK, this is broken,' and now they can fix it. And they have that confidence of knowing, I can do this."
"This" means fixing almost anything with an engine. You name it, Cedar Valley's Engine Technology students can work on it: motorcycle engines, boat engines, ATV engines, small engines and so forth. Almost everything in the shop belongs to a student.
"We've been the best kept secret for 41 years," Boo said. "We partnered with our Automotive department to do the Kubota Tech program with them. The program equips aspiring technicians with knowledge and skills in the off-road diesel equipment industry, such as utility vehicles, riding mowers and equipment like that. We have a lot more things going on over here than just motorcycles or small engines."
The Engine Technology program has been around since Cedar Valley opened in 1977. Boo, who was once a student in the program, took over as program coordinator when Duncan Paul retired in 2016.
"So, he built this program, and I've kind of kept it the same. It's not so much like the automotive industry where everything's gone computerized," she said. "Here, we're still very much hands-on. I want you to be able to take it apart and put it back together. Of course, you can have a computer system that tells you what's wrong, but you still have to know how to fix it."
To make sure students reach that level of competence, the program requires 240 practicum hours. It's a big number, but it's not as daunting as you might think.
"They have the option of doing their practicum hours here or at a dealership. So, if they get a job at a dealership, they're going to work, following whatever requirements they need to follow — becoming faster, learning about your product, that kind of thing," Boo said. "But yes, if they're at a dealership, they get it done real fast."
The program offers you plenty of options to get it all done. Daytime students, as Boo calls them, take classes from 8 a.m. to noon every weekday. The program uses fast-track, five-week courses, allowing daytime students to take three classes per semester and finish the certification in eight months.
Students can also take advantage of open time in the shop — usually from noon-2:30 or 3 p.m. on weekdays — when students can work on their projects for their practicum hours.
For evening students, they can usually finish the program in about a year and a half because there are only two evening classes offered: from 6-9 p.m. either Monday and Wednesday or Tuesday and Thursday.
"When I went through this program, you did the day classes, but then you had to come back the following fall to do the practicum," Boo said. "You had to have at least three classes before you could start your practicum. Now, they're already here, and they're going to their job at a dealership. They can be done in six weeks with their required hours."
The program is also designed to help students start at any point.
"I think what helps us a lot is there are no prerequisites at all," Boo said. "All you've got to do is get into the system and register for the class. That's all you've got to do. We're just so open for everybody to come in."
The program doesn't just teach the technical aspect of working on engines. It also teaches students how to speak with customers, which is sometimes a difficult thing for some to do.
"The first couple of classes, I get a feel for how the students are responding. Some of them do have anxiety," Boo said. "A lot of my students are military, and some of them have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other issues, so it does help them to practice talking to customers. Some say, 'Ah, I just want to work in the back.' That's fine, but you're still going to have to talk to people."
Because students in the program work on such a diverse group of products, there are plenty of job opportunities once you complete the program. It's also why the program isn't product-specific.
"I've got Lowe's, Home Depot, Northern Tool calling me to send them students. They need people to work with tool rentals and help maintain their inventory," she said. "I've got motorcycle dealerships. I've got utility dealers. I've got boat dealerships. Bass Pro is always asking for boat mechanics."
"It's such a small, specific type of mechanic that we have here. It's not like automotive, although it is getting kind of complex. But the same need applies to a lot of different venues."
If you're interested, check out the Engine Technology program. Boo is more than happy to help you get the ball rolling.
"I tell people, 'Here's the process: You just come in and fill out the application or complete it online,'" she said. "'Once they have you in the system, you get your student ID.' I tell them, 'Come see me and I'll give you a registration form already filled out.'"