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Pennsylvania College of Technology has one of the oldest automotive programs in the nation, dating back to 1920 when the institution – then a local technical institute – served to educate World War I veterans in servicing automobiles.
Today, the college’s extensive
automotive curricula includes an autobody program that offers
an associate of applied science degree in autobody technology
and a two-year certificate for autobody technician.
Located in Williamsport, Pa., and an affiliate of The Pennsylvania
State University, Penn College also offers a bachelor of science
degree in automotive-technology management, with autobody as one
of the program’s specialty options. To begin, the program capitalizes
on two years of applied technology and skill development in an
area of specialization, and the last two years of the degree consist
of advanced academic work in liberal arts, management and automotive
systems. A capstone project is required of all seniors, integrating
their knowledge and skills.
The autobody program received retooling when the curriculum was
totally rearranged seven years ago. A panel of industry experts
was assembled to discuss competencies needed by today’s technicians.
The Developing A Curriculum (DACUM) process was used to list all
the skills an autobody technician needed to be successful, and
those identified skills were then examined by faculty and grouped
into new courses. Every existing course was changed and replaced,
and an entirely new program – the associate of applied science
in autobody technology – was added to the existing certificate
offering. New courses were developed in unibody frame straightening,
advanced paint systems, computerized estimating, steering and
suspension, plastics, occupational health and safety, welding
and business to help prepare students to run their future businesses.
Additionally, articulations were strengthened with high school/vocational
programs allowing well-prepared students to earn advanced placement.
When Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) developed its criteria
for Master Certification in Auto Body, it was almost an exact
match for the curriculum Penn College had developed. Accreditation
was easily accomplished with only a slight adjustment in hours.
In addition to updating the curriculum, the college also took
a look at its equipment seven years ago. Because the existing
equipment lagged behind industry practices, a host of additions
were made. Two temperature-controlled downdraft spraybooths were
purchased, along with two donated paint-mixing machines complete
with computerized mixing. HVLP and LVLP spray guns were purchased
and three frame machines were added, one with a laser measuring
system. New welding equipment and a heated, downdraft prep station
also were added.
As well as being exposed to up-to-date technology, students have
the extra benefit of working on late-model collision vehicles,
courtesy of Toyota and the Toyota Technical-Education-Network
(T-TEN) program, of which Penn College is a member. By the truck
load, body parts and components have been donated to the autobody
"Our affiliation with the Toyota Technical Education Network
(T-TEN) has had tremendous benefit for the autobody program,"
says Colin W. Williamson, assistant dean of Penn College’s Natural
Resources Management/Transportation Technology Division. "We
are able to combine the latest technology in collision-damage
repair with the latest generation of vehicles. The result is an
instructional learning environment that closely mirrors what’s
occurring in state-of-the-art autobody shops."
Such partnerships, Williamson says, are vital to the success of
both industry and education. "The future of autobody education
lies in partnerships with both the autobody product and service
companies, and the vehicle manufacturer," Williamson says.
"As equipment and supplies become more expensive and federal
and state funding become more scarce, schools will be forced to
become more resourceful or risk the obsolescence of their programs.
"When we develop or revise curriculum, we need to have a
five-year vision as to the future of the field. The curriculum
takes a year to implement and students then spend at least two
years in our program, leaving just two years for using their acquired
knowledge and skills before needing updating. The changes in technology,
driven by regulations, have made the vision over five years increasingly
cloudy. … We are just the first step in a lifelong pursuit of
training and updating for the autobody technician of tomorrow."
Williamson says Penn College anticipates the greatest future changes
to be in vehicle composition, paint, paint-delivery systems, electronic-systems
integration and computer-aided technology.
Since refocusing its autobody program and placing increased emphasis
on industry alliances, Penn College has seen enrollment in the
program double and job opportunities for graduates increase. Of
course, student success is the best measure of program success.
"Graduates have gone in many different directions,"
Williamson says. Some have gone on to work as insurance adjusters,
teachers, fleet autobody technicians and antique-vehicle restorers,
and many have started their own businesses or worked as managers
of large shops. One student even had the interesting job of repairing
collision-damaged vehicles on a movie set.
For more information, contact Colin Williamson at Pennsylvania
College of Technology, One College Ave., Williamsport, Pa. 17701
or call (717) 326-3761, ext. 3559.