GRCC automotive program gives Grand Haven grad opportunity to shift gears

When Sophia Lonnee graduated from Grand Haven High School last year, she had plans to enroll at two different universities.

But halfway through summer, she decided to shift gears.

“Part of me was just overwhelmed,” she says. “I was a decent student, but I really hated high school and I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I decided to work a lot and think about it. 

“I started asking myself, what could I do that I enjoy, that could make me some decent money? I have always enjoyed working on my own car, so I started looking into training programs.”

Lonnee found the Automotive Tech Job Training Program at Grand Rapids Community College. She feels like she made the right move. 

“I like the hands-on experience and all of the tools,” she says in a story shared by GRCC. “I love having access to all the tools and the shop to do the work. It’s been fun to work on my car and my family’s cars. I’ve done a lot of brakes and saved them a lot of money. I like that a lot.” 

‘Exhausting’ but worthwhile

Automotive technicians are required to be certified and licensed by the state of Michigan. Licensed technicians use precision diagnostic equipment, service manuals and power tools to diagnose and repair vehicles.

GRCC job training programs offer many scholarships, grants and financial aid.

“I am getting my program completely paid for, so really all it’s costing me is my time,” Lonnee says.

The automotive technician program is scheduled like a job. Class meets Monday to Thursday from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Lonnee works in the evening as well. 

“It’s kind of exhausting,” she says, “but it’s 100% worth it, just to have this experience. It does take commitment, but once you get all these certifications you have them forever.”

37 certifications available

The automotive technician program is taught by instructor Gayl Beals, who has more than 25 years experience in the industry. Beals holds an Education Specialist degree, holds MOPAR level one certification and is accredited by Snap-on Tools.

“Mr. B is a very smart guy,” Lonnee says. “I like how he pushes us to figure things out on our own. He’s a really good instructor. This doesn’t seem like school at all.”

Students learn braking systems, suspension, electrical, heating and cooling, and computer operations. GRCC holds partnerships with Ford and Chrysler Fiat to provide additional certifications, giving students the opportunity to acquire value credentials leading to more than 37 certifications.

When Lonnee finishes the program in July, she knows that she will have many opportunities.

“Even if I don’t stay in automotive forever, I will always have these skills. With the connections that Mr. B has plus the demand, I’m sure I’ll land somewhere.”

The next section of job training programs begins Aug. 8. For more information, go to  grcc.edu/jobtraining or call 616-234-3800.

Read more articles by Shandra Martinez.