Nate Smith hopped in his Ford truck, flipped the A/C on full blast and set out for Holloway Street in Durham, North Carolina.
He’s meeting with the owner of AutoSense Service Center to discuss an opening for a mechanic, and he has a student in mind.
It’s a routine visit for Smith, a Durham native, who goes out of his way to help his students secure jobs.
AutoSense is almost 100 percent employed by Durham Technical Community College graduates, much, in part, because of Smith’s unwavering support for his students. According to Smith, most dealerships, garages or automotive retailers in the area have vehicle bays chocked full of Durham Tech alumni.
“I can look my students in the eye and promise them a job,” Smith said. “It’s such a guarantee, that if you came through the program, got ASE certified and threw a dart at a map of the U.S. from across the room, you could get a job wherever it landed. I can’t say that for any other career other than nursing because everywhere you go, you’ve got broke down cars and broke down bodies.”
Smith has seen the fruit of his labor since he started teaching in 2001.
“There are some dealerships in this town where more than 60 percent of their mechanics came out of Durham Tech,” Smith said. “When you teach a student how to fix a car and then you walk through a dealership two years later and they call out your name. There they are. They’re making $40,000 to $60,000 per year. They’re feeding their families. They’re doing well – and to know you had a little part to play in that – it feels good to know you made a difference in those folk’s lives.”
Transition to a new career
Once the owner of AutoSmith Garage, Smith transitioned to teaching after a conversation in the fall of 2000. A student at Durham Tech, who worked under Smith, told him he had a knack for it.
His next stop was Durham Tech.
“I talked to someone in the automotive program and got a call from the director the next day,” Smith recalled. “He said, ‘We’ve been looking for someone. You’d be perfect. We want you, we need you.’”
Robert Ballard, automotive instructor at Chapel Hill High School, was 17 when he enrolled in Smith’s program. He was an AutoSmith Scholarship recipient and originally just wanted a certificate or diploma, but Smith pushed him to get a degree.
Afterward, Smith helped him get a job as a continuing education instructor at the college.
“I don’t think he loves anything more than teaching and he loves impacting people’s lives,” he said.
In his father’s footsteps
Smith is a family man. It’s a legacy in his family.
The late Glen Loy Smith, Sr. was a business man, minister, and former adjunct instructor at Durham Tech that placed high value on equality and helping others.
In 2006, Smith started the AutoSmith Scholarship with the Durham Tech Foundation, which offsets the cost of one introductory automotive course, to serve as a starting point for a college career.
“I wanted to do something big, something that counted for something,” Smith said. “I saw the need of giving a percentage of your paycheck back to help students. It’s my way of honoring my dad, honoring Durham Tech, and helping automotive students who wouldn’t have the funds otherwise.”
When his dad passed away in 2008, Smith altered the scholarship to give priority to individuals in the homeless community by way of Durham Rescue Mission.
“I wanted to tailor the scholarship to the homeless to honor my dad,” Smith said. “The inspiration for what I do comes from Dad’s commitment. In some ways, he’s still having an effect on this earth.”
Since its inception, 16 students have received the AutoSmith Scholarship.
Smith’s dream for the automotive department at Durham Tech grew last year when Marc Pons, owner of Chapel Hill Tire, also started an automotive scholarship at the college.
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