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Nestled among wooded bluffs surrounding the Mississippi River in Southeastern Minnesota is Red Wing/Winona Technical College. Founded in 1949 as one of the first two technical institutes in the state, the college offers dozens of majors, including autobody
At Winona, instructors of the autobody program believe all training
should be founded upon the basics. "We don’t try to dazzle
students with all the high tech," says instructor Tom Brandt,
"rather we focus on entry-level skills and quality."
With an average enrollment of 25 to 35 students, the program offers
two paths of coursework. By completing 100 credits, which takes
about two years, students can earn an autobody-technology diploma.
Students can also work toward a certificate track, which can be
completed in one school year. The goal of these options is to
allow students flexibility in the program and to serve industry
needs at different entry levels.
The first classes students take after enrolling in the program
build skills in refinishing, welding, sheet-metal repair, safety
and vehicle construction. During these courses, they work on practice
vehicles that won’t be put back on the road. Once that segment
of the program is completed, all subsequent lab work is performed
on actual customer vehicles and must meet quality levels comparable
to industry expectations before the vehicles can leave the shop.
"Our approach to teaching a repair is to focus on making
the student a thinker and problem solver, rather than to focus
on a single process or piece of equipment," says instructor
Mark Hoehn. "For example, rather than answer students questions
directly, [instructors] will first ask them to explain what they
think the repair plan should be and then we assist from there."
Students continue to use all the skills learned in their beginning
courses and to build upon them as they progress through the program.
"We expose the students to the basics of all advanced areas
of collision repair," Brandt says. "Topics such as measuring,
pulling, DC electrical theory, wheel alignment, plastics repair,
estimating, related mechanical and others are covered. Some students
really start to excel in these areas and find a niche they want
to pursue as a specialty."
Instructors and students keep abreast of industry activity through
program involvement with I-CAR. Hoehn is an I-CAR welding-qualification
administrator, and Brandt is an instructor for several I-CAR courses.
An advisory committee, comprised of various members of the collision-repair
industry, also helps guide the curriculum decisions and program
"A clear focus is needed to train students in the art of
autobody and collision repair," Hoehn says. "With all
of the advancements and changes in vehicles, we need to stay focused.
We have to remember what entry level is and teach those skills.
Using late-model vehicles … we’re able to teach the basics,
dealing with the outer panels and refinishing, as well as to introduce
current structural, mechanical, electrical and other related technical
Combining theory and hands-on learning, the autobody program at
Winona Technical College offers students training in computer
operation, mathematics, communications, career planning and placement,
and other workplace skills. Students can also participate in the
local Vocational Industrial Clubs of America (VICA) chapter, which
provides opportunities for enrichment activities and skills contests.
Graduates of the program have secured jobs in a variety of shops
and organizations, as well as pursued entrepreneurial interests
by opening their own businesses.
For more information, contact Admissions at Red Wing/Winona Technical
College, 1250 Homer Road, Winona, Minn. 55987 or call (800) 372-8164.