Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, center, Superintendent Eric Witherspoon (to her left) and Trey Coon (to her right) cut the ribbon on ETHS’s new auto-tech lab. To the left of Dr. Witherspoon are District 202 Board president Mark Metz, ETHS teacher Michael Wylie, and auto tech students. To Mr. Coon’s right are more auto-tech students.

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Thanks to a substantial gift from an ETHS alum and his family, Evanston Township High School has been able to increase its offerings for students who choose a career pathway other than a four-year college degree. A $100,000 gift over four years from the Owen L. Coon Foundation, plus a great deal of work by the ETHS faculty and administration, have resulted in the high school’s receiving accreditation as an Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) school through the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation (NATEF).

This milestone, reached in December 2011, recognizes the high standard ETHS has achieved by renovating its auto shop space, developing exemplary curriculum for the auto technology classes and establishing career and advanced training partnerships with local businesses and community colleges.

“The job opportunities in the automotive industry are truly mind-boggling today,” said Michael Wylie, an ETHS automotive technology teacher and a stakeholder in the high school’s accreditation initiative.

“Since the original shop was built in the early 1930s, the industry has changed dramatically, with computer diagnostics being the state-of-the-art standard. We need to keep pace with the industry.” The auto technology classes offered in the ETHS Career and Technical Education Department focus on two key areas: electronics/electricity and suspension/steering. Both courses combine theory with valuable hands-on experience.

Shelley Gates, CTE department chair, explains the high school’s interest in increased vocational certification programs. She said it is “not true” that only those with college degrees will be able to have a sound financial future.

“Today there are high-paying jobs in the trades, in healthcare, the computer industry, and other fields where a college degree isn’t necessary,” she said.

She added, “Our Applied Sciences and Technologies offerings, including the auto technology pathway, can meet the needs of lots of students and help to fill the skills gap that keeps many young people from getting jobs.”

Ms. Gates said the auto technology certification program is an example of a career and technical offering that provides students with real-world job-relevant skills that can open post-secondary options and propel students to success after high school graduation.

“ETHS graduates who have taken the auto technology classes here can get post-secondary training by going through the auto technology program at Triton Community College, for example,” said Ms. Gates. “And our recent certification status enables students to make a smooth transition to a NATEF-certified community college program.”

A letter of understanding with Triton College in River Grove enables graduates of the ASE auto technology courses at ETHS to matriculate at Triton for either their associate in applied science degree in automotive technology or any of their five certificate programs in automotive technology. “Because Oakton Community College, our district community college, doesn’t offer the same opportunities, ETHS students fortunately will be able to attend Triton with in-district tuition privileges, “said Ms. Gates.

Vocational training is a hot topic in education circles. In February 2011, the Harvard Graduate School of Education published a report focused on the typically “forgotten half” – that part of the population with a high school education or less. The paper, entitled “Pathways to Prosperity,” discusses the need for high schools to develop meaningful career training as a part of more comprehensive school reform. According to this report, in a time when education is vital for financial security and success, the United States is failing to prepare millions of young adults adequately. The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce predicts the U.S. economy will create some four million job openings by 2018, nearly two-thirds of which will require at least some post-secondary education.

Certification programs such as the auto technology one at ETHS are a solid step in the training pathway that includes post-secondary credentials and courses preparing students to be high-technology problem-solvers who can understand and maintain today’s cars. Although some auto technicians still learn the trade through apprenticeships, the sophisticated technology of the 21st century usually requires coursework in automotive repair, electronics, physics, chemistry, English, computers and mathematics.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that by the year 2018 there will be approximately 799,600 jobs for automotive technicians and mechanics. Workers with post-secondary training will earn substantially more than those without it. They will have access to more challenging jobs – those that call for high-technology tools, computer skills and training to comply with government regulations.

New cars are wired for the Internet and have cell phone hook-ups, satellite radio service and global positioning systems – technologies that ratchet up the skill sets for auto technicians and the schools that train them. The most experienced master technicians can earn more than $70,000 a year and will have skills that can give them mobility in the job market.

To celebrate its certification in Auto Technician Training Programs, ETHS held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Jan. 30. Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, several members of the District 202 School Board and members of the advisory committee attended: Steven Albert, product analyst, ZF, former ETHS Auto Technology student; Pete Bavis, Associate Principal, Teaching and Learning, ETHS; Frank Candioto, former principal and administrator, Chicago Public Schools;Charlie Edwards, owner/operator, Auto Doctor; Warren Fellingham, owner/operator, Warren’s Shell Service; Neida Hernandez-Santamaria, consultant; Chris Klbecka, parts and service director, The Autobarn Limited; Paul Klitzkie, former ETHS Auto Technology student; Jonathan Lewis, Scientist, Fermi Lab, and Community Member; Dick Peach, Owner/Operator, Dempster Auto Rebuilders; Harold Santamaria, Automotive Instructor, Truman College, and Consultant; Andy Spies, Account Manager, Snap-on Industrial; Bill Stafford, Chief Financial Officer, Evanston Township High SchoolDon Stewart, Owner/Operator, DPS Motorwerks; and Brian Stone, Industry/Engineering Practicum Teacher, ETHS.