As the automobile industry speeds toward a greener, more sustainable future, Austin Community College is fully loaded and ready to roll. This spring ACC debuts an alternative fuels course to better prepare technicians to repair and maintain the automobiles of the future.
Students enrolling in “Alternative Automotive Fuels” (AUMT 2457) will study various alternative fuels, with an emphasis on hybrid technology, and can become state-certified to convert gas-powered vehicles to run on propone or natural gas.
“We’re almost being deluged with fuel alternatives,” Michael Shoebroek, ACC Automotive Technology Program chair. “We look at the industry and where it’s heading, and that’s what we teach our students.”
Since most training currently is available through auto manufacturers only, local response to the ACC course has been positive.
“I’m excited to see ACC offer this class,” says Hank Amor, owner of Oak Hill Automotive. “Our industry has gone through changes in the past, but alternative fuel poses the greatest change to the way autos operate.”
Stacy Neef, coordinator of Central Texas Clean Cities sees the course as a crucial step toward her organization’s goal of decreasing U.S. dependency on foreign oil. “Locally, this will help fulfill a need for auto technicians who are familiar with alternative fuel vehicles.”
Wrote the book
You could say that ACC literally wrote the book on hybrid and alt fuel education. Since there is no existing textbook that covers assorted alternative fuels, ACC associate professor of auto technology and course instructor, Robert Pelham, developed his own curriculum using independent research, national seminars, and hands-on experience that’s included taking apart a hybrid auto that was donated to the ACC program. “I’ve been getting as much training as I can before we get started on this,” he says.
The first part of the course will cover important safety procedures, Pelham says. “A lot of the new fuel systems bring significant safety issues. For example, hybrids have extremely high-voltage batteries, so a shock can be deadly.”
Market for conversions
As for converting gas-powered vehicles to run on alternative fuels, Pelham adds, “most likely, manufacturers someday will make their own conversion kits, but right now there is a market for retrofitting vehicles.” Shoebroek foresees the alternative fuels course splitting into separate courses on particular technologies. “As other sources of energy are adopted, we’re going to have to change our program,” he says.
In Central Texas, auto mechanics are among the highest growth jobs, but training is extremely limited. ACC’s program has been taught at the Riverside Campus, and each semester more than 50 students are turned away due to lack of space. Other than ACC, the nearest public colleges offering classes are located in Waco or south San Antonio.
Until recently, that is.
New locations add capacity
ACC has worked to address capacity and convenience by adding teaching sites around the region. Today, classes are taught around Austin, in Williamson County, and since the fall semester, at the ACC Goodnight Center in San Marcos.
“All our San Marcos classes filled the first semester,” Shoebroek says. “We knew there was a need down there, but we didn’t realize it was quite that much.”
The program will get its biggest boost when the Round Rock Campus opens in fall 2010, with a 7,500-square-foot auto technology classroom and lab facility that doubles enrollment capacity. “We expect to add 100 students in the first year alone.”
ACC offers aspiring mechanics an opportunity to earn certificates specializing in different automotive systems, from brakes to electronics. Each certificate is made up of three to six courses, and together they comprise the Associate of Applied Science degree in automotive technology.
“Most of the students start out taking our specialty certificates, but once they get started they want to take all the other courses,” Shoebroek says. “The way the industry breaks down, the more training you have, the more employable you are and the more money you’ll make.”
Shoebroek urges aspiring mechanics to get a well-rounded education in the industry. “Cars have gotten so complicated that just a high school education is no longer enough.”Back to Top