Lab technician Cody Avalos gives boot camp advice to Josh Jansen, who will be a senior this fall at Daniel J. Gross High School in Bellevue.


Automotive boot camp gives students a jump-start on careers

High school students Jack Bywater and Caleb Kennedy will be handed certificates this Friday, June 28, after completing a four-week Automotive and Diesel Mechanic Boot Camp at Metropolitan Community College (MCC).

But they will walk away with more than a piece of paper.

They’ll have the experience needed to help them decide on possible careers in the automotive industry, plus opportunities to begin working right away at repair shops, making as much as $28 an hour during their senior year in high school.

Kennedy and Bywater are among 13 students completing the pilot program for archdiocesan Catholic schools.

The first Catholic schools automotive boot camp was funded by donors and offered to interested students at Roncalli Catholic High School in Omaha and Daniel J. Gross Catholic High School in Bellevue. From there, organizers hope to expand the program to include other Catholic high schools in urban and rural areas of the archdiocese.

“These kids are wonderful,” said Bob Danenhauer, who helped coordinate the boot camp for Archdiocese of Omaha Catholic Schools. “They’ve been engaged. They don’t miss. It’s been a great group to work with.”

“I’m excited,” said Anita Harkins-Mehsling, associate superintendent of archdiocese Catholic schools. “I think the first cohort has done very well and has brought a lot of good buzz so that hopefully other students in our Catholic high schools want to get involved.”

Already a wait list has formed for next summer’s boot camp, she said.

The main purpose of the program is to expose students to careers in the automotive field, which often begin with salaries of $50,000 to $60,000, Danenhauer said. “So it kind of opens their eyes” that they can make a good living working in automotive fields.

 “You’ve got an opportunity to make some money if you love working with your hands on automobiles or semi trucks,” he said.

 Kennedy, who will be a senior at Roncalli Catholic this fall, said he’s interested in a career in auto body work and collision repair.

He said he enjoyed tearing apart automotive components and putting them back together again.

Caleb Kennedy solders a cable during a recent class at Metropolitan Community College.

“If you have any interest in cars or working as a mechanic, you should take the boot camp,” Kennedy said.” You get to meet a lot of people who are in the industry.”

“Then you can flesh out more of what you want to do.”

“You get a lot of exposure to the industry,” said Bywater, who will be a senior at Gross Catholic this fall.

He said he’s considering a career in auto body work or automotive engine repair. Even before the boot camp, he said, he was strongly considering those fields, but the experience at MCC further cemented those ideas for him.

Jack Bywater receives instruction from lab technician Cody Avalos during boot camp at MCC.

The boot camp began June 3 and ends with Friday’s graduation.

The students – seven from Gross and six from Roncalli – were in class from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. four days a week, Monday through Thursday. On Fridays they went on field trips.

Each week they focused on a different specialty in the automotive field: small engines such as lawn mowers and weed trimmers; auto body work; diesel technology; and automotive technology.

Classes were held at MCC’s Applied Technology Center in Irvington and the college’s Automotive Training Center at its south Omaha campus.

Field trips have been to a collision repair shop, an auto repair shop and a commercial truck dealership. Those workplaces have openings for students for part-time jobs or internships, even while they are still in high school.

The boot camp students were paid $500 as part of the program and provided food and drinks while in class.

MCC offers other opportunities for high school students, too. They can begin studying auto and diesel mechanics for free because of federal funding the college received during the COVID-19 pandemic. The students can also obtain dual credits, which allows them to earn college credits while in high school.

At the pilot schools of Gross and Roncalli, students could potentially take their high school classes in the morning and attend automotive classes in the afternoon at MCC, Harkins-Mehsling said. That scheduling would allow them to still hold a job or participate in extracurricular activities after school.

Dominic Roos, who will be a senior at Gross Catholic, solders a cable.

Sam Davidson, left, and Sam Fillmore, participate in the automotive boot camp. Both just graduated from Roncalli Catholic.



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