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Automotive Day revs up high school students at Randolph Community College

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Matthew Wood, an automotive system technology instructor, asks for a little help at his Light Duty Diesel station at Randolph Community College‘s (RCC) Automotive Day. A local 10th grade student steps up to showcase how a successful diesel injector performs.

Ten feet from this demo, another group of students is watching electric vehicles honk and remote start. Down at the collision repair and refinishing area, students are painting a car wearing a virtual reality headset and getting into a paint booth next door to try their hand at the actual thing.

On Feb. 16, around 200 10th graders from Randolph County took a field trip to the Richard Petty Education Center for hands-on demonstrations in automotive systems technology and collision repair. Formerly the Asheboro Body Shop, this facility added the necessary 15,000 square feet 15 years ago for the growing programs. Randolph County native and NASCAR legend Richard Petty’s name adorns the building.

Automotive Day was created through a partnership between the community college and the public K-12 school systems in the area — Randolph County Schools, Asheboro City Schools, and the Uwharrie Charter Academy.

The purpose was to increase exposure for automotive career pathways, as well as give these students more information on Career and College Promise, which allows K-12 students to enroll in community college classes while they are still in high school.

“Coming to our facility, you get to see firsthand what we can do, what we have done here,” said Don Ashley, department head of Automotive Systems Technology, “and this is just the tip of the iceberg.”

Ashley is a graduate of the program, and it is easy to see how much he loves his job. His enthusiasm to get more students into the automotive pathway and out into the workforce is shared with local leaders.

Don Ashley talking with high schoolers at Automotive Day. Caroline Parker/EducationNC

“With the growth that’s coming in with all the new manufacturing (companies), those employees are going to have vehicles they’re going to travel back and forth with, so they’re going to need more technicians to service those cars,” Ashley said.

Ashley is referring to the impending growth of Vinfast Manufacturing, Toyota, and Wolfspeed in Randolph and neighboring Chatham County. Kevin Franklin, president of the Randolph County Economic Development Corporation, said there are close to 50,000 jobs coming to the area, and Ashley sees that as a lot more cars on the road to maintain.

RCC student Miguel Meraz is in his second year in the Collision Repair and Refinishing Technology program and is leading the paint booth demonstration for Automotive Day. His dad has an old Camaro that he has always wanted to restore, so this program was a natural fit.

“RCC is a great program. I love it here,” he said. “I think the thing that makes it such a good program is the teachers.”

Current students at RCC were aiding with demonstrations or leading stations, serving as key connections for these high school students and helping them to see themselves in the program. High school career coaches, the college’s director of student recruitment, and other success coaches answered questions.

RCC student with an engine during Automotive Day. Caroline Parker/EducationNC

“It doesn’t matter if you know something about cars, a little bit about cars, or nothing about cars, or a whole bunch about cars. Come here,” Ashely said. “We’ll find you a place that you fit, you belong. We’ll find your career that will change your world.”

Caroline Parker

Caroline Parker is the director of rural storytelling and strategy for EducationNC. She covers the stories of rural North Carolina, the arts, STEM education and nutrition.