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Engine and Automotive Technology career pathway helps students turn their passion into purpose

  • Pathways & Partnerships

Since relocating to its state-of-the-art facility six years ago as part of Vision One91, the automotive program at Burnsville High School (BHS) provides real-world learning experiences for students and helps them easily move into desired careers in the automotive field. 

Through various grants, like the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry’s Youth Skills Training grant, generous donations and on-going support from business partnerships, including Walser Foundation, Burnsville Toyota, Crystal Lake Automotive and Mark’s Towing, students have access to cutting-edge equipment, job shadowing opportunities, paid work experiences, certifications and early college credit opportunities.

Automotive classes are rigorous and relevant, and curriculum aligns with industry standards and expectations. A student who goes through the program, from engine technology to welding & auto repair to advanced vehicle services, will know how to perform a variety of repairs and services by the time they graduate. Some of the skills students learn are balancing and aligning tires, changing front/rear brakes, replacing struts, welding and diagnostics. 

The BHS tech annex, an 8,000 square-foot building adjacent to the school that houses the automotive center and construction/woods classroom, features an alignment rack, tire machine, wheel balancer, welding shop, plasma cutter and diagnostic equipment.      

“The shop at the high school is extremely nice, nicer than some dealerships these days,” said James Johnston, a 2021 graduate who is pursuing a degree in automotive repair at Dakota County Technical College and works as an auto tech at Nissan of Burnsville. “Having so much equipment available to use allowed us to learn a lot of different skills, from engine mechanics to welding.” 

Ever since he was a young child, Johnston enjoyed learning how things work. Over the years he has tinkered with computers, built countless Lego and Erector sets and constructed a variety of inventions. His passion for creating and fixing things eventually turned to cars.

james johnston

“My passion for fixing cars came from my hands-on experiences at BHS and the fact that there’s so many options in the field,” said Johnston. “Mechanics can work on anything from engines to computers, and there’s always room to move around and expand your skills.”

“The automotive program, as well as other trades classes, offers transferable skills,” said Russ Tesmer, technology education teacher and automotive instructor. “Not all students in the automotive pathway will end up in the field, but the skills they’ve learned here will help them in other career fields.”   

In his senior year, Johnston was selected to participate in an internship program with Nissan of Burnsville. Nissan eventually hired him on as an employee. As a tech in the dealership's service department, James changes oil, checks fluids, changes tires and more — all the basics he learned while a student in the automotive program. 

“I knew I needed to be hands-on with my career choice. I wouldn’t be able to sit somewhere all day,” said Johnston. “Being in the shop has always been fun to me, in the sense that I don’t feel like I’m ever really working.”

Part of the One91 Pathways journey, the Automotive Pathway “allows students to gain skills relevant to industry standards and be well positioned for employment and/or further education after graduation,” said Kathy Funston, the district’s director of strategic partnerships and pathways. The program at BHS “supports a future-ready employment base for the automotive industry.” 

Like Johnston, students can apply their love of learning and develop a sense of self to envision a future where their aspirations are truly within reach. Thanks in part to the Automotive Pathway, Johnston is blazing a trail and forging a path for himself in the industry.

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