PARMA, Ohio - As Anthony Latta diagnosed a brake problem in one of the service bays at Axelrod Buick GMC in Parma, it was easy to see that he enjoyed what he was doing. He said he's been under the hoods of cars, watching and helping his father, since he was in diapers.
Watching him under the hood, it was obvious he knew his way around a car. That knowledge and enthusiasm is what caught the eye of Axelrod Service Manager Rusty Gold, when he visited the automotive program at Polaris High School. Gold hired Latta part time, while Anthony was still in high school.
"I could just sense that something was a head above everyone else when it came to Anthony," Gold said. "I just saw the value of a kid who just loves what he's doing and has a very good feel for what it's about."
So Gold offered to sponsor Latta in the ASEP program at Cuyahoga Community College. ASEP stands for Automotive Service Educational Program and it's a partnership between General Motors and 50 colleges across the United States and Canada. Tri-C has been a partner since 1989.
What makes the program unique is that GM provides Tri-C with the latest automotive technology, including cars, engines, transmissions, and diagnostic equipment. Students learn with the same equipment that is used at GM dealerships.
"This school has the top notch equipment," Gold said. "Some of it is better than what I have at my dealership."
Students are in class for eight weeks, then take what they learn to the dealership for eight weeks, working in a real world environment while earning money that can help pay their tuition. Then it's back to Tri-C for more classroom instruction.
"I work on real customer's cars. Anything from a simple oil change to diagnosing intermittent electrical problems. And you get the face time with the customers, one on one, trying to explain what's going on with their cars," Latta said.
To Gold, that ability to communicate with customers sets ASEP apart.
"That's what's so great about the kids coming out of this school. When they get to my store, I fully trust them to talk to a customer on a very high level," Gold explained.
Instructors at the two-year ASEP program pointed out students get much more than technical training. Students graduate with an Associate degree and take the same classes as any other student at Tri-C.
"They get their math, their English, their sociology, their psychology," Ted Schafer, Tri-C's ASEP Coordinator said. "It produces a very high quality student who can do a lot of different things when they graduate."
Schafer should know. He's also a graduate of the ASEP program and is one of three Tri-C instructors certified to teach the ASEP classes. GM makes sure that the ASEP instructors are kept up to date as well, requiring them to attend seminars when new technology becomes available.
"They (GM) invest a lot in the colleges and they invest a lot in their instructors to make sure that we stay up to date so that we can pass that information along to the student, which ultimately benefits GM and its dealers," Schafer said.
A typical ASEP class might involve some lecture, technical review, and demonstrations. Then it's on to the lab, where students work on late model GM cars, diagnosing problems and making repairs. It's much like they would at their sponsoring dealership, except in the lab they can make mistakes and learn from them.
"It's a safe environment for them to work. They can break something here. They don't have to worry about it," Schafer said. "At the dealership if you damage a customer's car, that would be an issue."
Schafer also pointed out the Tri-C program is very affordable when compared to a private college or trade school.
"Average cost is probably around $6,000 for them to go to the program," Schafer said. "That's one of the other benefits of us being a community college. We're able to give the student a quality education at a fraction of the cost of a private college or a specialized school."
But the bottom line is jobs and according to Schafer the Tri-C ASEP program has had a 100 percent placement rate among its graduates.
"I have never had a student graduate from this program and not stay on with their sponsoring dealer," Schafer said.
It's an education that Anthony hopes will prepare him for his future career.
"I would just like to be a better all around technician on cars and the ultimate goal is to make more money," Latta said.
Click this link for more information on Cuyahoga Community College's ASEP program: http://on.wews.com/Hc2CBB
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