Signing up for a better future

By Linda Alberty Layhew

Nick DiVito and Myles James, who are currently excelling in their first year as automotive technology students at Waubonsee Community College, initially did not consider attending college after graduating high school. During their senior year at Yorkville and Sandwich High Schools, they attended half-day classes and spent the other half at the Indian Valley Vocation Center (IVVC). They shared a common interest in cars but had different ideas for their careers. James planned to enter the workforce immediately, while DiVito was considering attending trade school.

However, DiVito and James’ vision for their future changed instantly after attending and signing a letter of intent to start their career in automotive technology at Waubonsee’s 2023 Signing Day.
“Once I saw how clean the shop was at Waubonsee, all the equipment, how many employers were on-site, and had a chance to see how caring the faculty were, I knew on the spot I had to sign up,” said DiVito.

Last year, Waubonsee’s Career Programs Open House and Signing Day drew 425 area high school students to explore their dream careers in various career and technical education (CTE) fields offered by Waubonsee, such as the automotive technology, auto body repair, CAD/engineering, cybersecurity, HVAC, machine tool technology, and welding programs.

Of those attending, more than 30 high school seniors signed letters on a stage, officially declaring their intent to start their academic journey at Waubonsee in the presence of faculty and industry experts.

Briana Powell, from Channahon, also joined DiVito and James in signing a letter of intent last year. Although she had never taken an automotive class, Powell was motivated to sign up after a conversation with Ken Kunz, professor of automotive technology, who saw potential in her.

“I remember thinking this is going to be a totally new experience,” said Powell. “It usually takes time for me to decide about things, but this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.” She was intimidated by the idea of picking up tools before signing up. However, her comfort level has increased as she has gained hands-on experience working on cars in the shop for up to six hours a day on real customers’ vehicles.

Powell’s career goal is to become an automotive engineer. She believes many engineers who design cars lack hands-on experience and knowledge about vehicles, and she wants to change that. Powell feels that as a female, she often has to work harder to prove herself, but she thinks more women should consider entering the industry.

“Women can do anything. If they love cars, they should consider pursuing a career in the field. It’s a fulfilling experience,” said Powell.

Students like DiVito, James, and Powell who participate in Signing Day get priority access to fall class registration. They also gain access to competitive certificate training programs offered by Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, and Chrysler even before the semester begins.

“When I came to Waubonsee, I thought I knew a decent amount, but after two semesters, I’ve learned so much that I think you can’t get that experience going into the workforce,” said James.
James says that after participating in Signing Day, he took as many online certificates as possible, which has led to his new role as a lube technician at Toyota of Naperville. Similarly, DiVito was introduced to his current employer during a field trip to the Autobahn Country Club with his Waubonsee automotive technology program faculty.

In addition to quality instruction and plenty of networking opportunities with car manufacturers and industry experts, DiVito, James, and Powell, say what they like best is the hands-on experience and the real-world skills they receive in the shop.

Although classes begin at 8 a.m. in the automotive technology program, instructors arrive with students at 7:30 a.m. to prepare the shop. “Waubonsee runs its facility like a live shop and this instills a sense of pride in us,” said James.

“The instructors not only teach us about cars and how to repair them but also about essential life skills, such as time management and discipline, and they go out of their way to show us they care for us. It’s given me a big step towards my dreams.”

Waubonsee’s CTE programs equip students with the latest technology, hands-on experience, and training to prepare them for high-skill, high-demand, and high-wage careers in Illinois and beyond.

In the fall of 2025, the college will be positioned to prepare even more students for high-demand jobs. Waubonsee is proud to announce that the college will begin construction of a brand new 100,000 sq ft. CTE Building at the Sugar Grove Campus. This high-tech facility will create more opportunities for recent high school graduates and adult learners seeking industry-recognized credentials to stay competitive in today’s job market.

This article originally appeared here.

Linda Alberty Layhew

is the communications manager for Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove, Illinois.