Other Articles - May - 2016

Alfred State Automotive and ATRA: A Perfect Parnership

Alfred State College is a small technical school, with about 3500 students, in the Southern Tier of Western New York State. The college is part of the State University of New York (SUNY) system and offers a variety of two and four-year degrees.

The automotive department resides in the School of Applied Technology, which also offers Associate of Occupational Science (AOS) programs in building trades, electrical, manufacturing technology, and culinary arts. The auto trades department includes automotive technology, truck and diesel, collision, and motorsports. ‘The AOS programs are designed as career “go-to-work” programs, and the college provides a ladder for those students who wish to continue their educations toward a four-year degree.

The auto department has a long-standing relationship with ATRA. Transmission class instructor Mike Ronan has been an ATRA Member and Proctor since the mid 1980s.

All of the AOS programs at Alfred focus on “live work,” meaning that students participate in real-world learning opportunities every day. Nowhere is this more evident than the transmission course, a mandatory second year course in the auto tech curriculum. The course emphasizes live work, with projects being provided by students, their family members, faculty, and staff.

“It’s important to us that we don’t take outside work that may interfere with business opportunities for local shops,” says Ronan. “We understand the importance of putting students in a typical industry environment, and the college population provides us with ample opportunities. The auto department relies on industry partnerships to get the jobdone, and ATRA has been instrumental in providing students with a variety of tools to ‘Hit the Ground Running,'” (the trademark statement of Alfred State College).

ATRA has long provided a full toolbox to help automotive students understand one of the more complex parts of the industry. The Tech Repair Center, bulletins, GEARS Magazine, and ATRA technical publications have been widely used for years.

The recent addition of ATRA webinars has brought a new level of involvement to the transmission class. Webinars are scheduled to maximize student participation, and many students who’ve already taken the transmission course return to sit in on the webinars with the current class.

Ronan notes that “the students really get into the webinars because they’re clearly executed. Each one starts with an introduction to the subject that lets them see what material will be covered. The component descriptions and operation provide the background. The students are really hands-on, so when the webinar goes into diagnosis and repair, they really sit up and listen.”

These webinars aren’t just another theoretical learning opportunity for Alfred Auto students: A recent webinar on the Aisin AS68RC provided critical diagnostic information to one student who used his new-found knowledge to help repair two trucks in the shop where he works part-time. This is just one of many instances where students take what they’ve learned from ATRA and put it to use, whether in the lab or at their jobs.

The webinar experience holds their attention, and the format leads to discussions that continue long after the screen shuts down. The wide variety of material in the webinars matches many of the subjects presented in the trans-mission class. Overhaul procedures, flashing protocol, and diagnostic information all fit the Alfred program well, says Ronan.

“Laptops are one of our key tools, and the webinars show the students how important they are for information and repair techniques. Our students are part of the new generation of technicians, and they have no fear of technology.”

ATRA provides other assets to help students get ready for employment: Transmission class students are assigned readings from GEARS Magazine, and often choose articles on shop management and customer relationships as topics for assignments.

The Tech Repair Center is a natural choice for students who’ve The Axiline dyno information is projected on a monitor so students can see data in real time. 40 GEARS May 2016 Alfred State Automotive and ATRA: A Perfect Partnership come to realize the importance of learning from the experience of other technicians and the experts at ATRA. The live work environment of the Alfred program means that each repair has to be right, and information provided on the Tech Repair Center helps jobs go out the door.

Mistakes will be made, especially when students are performing tasks that are outside of their experiences. Bulletins on the web site often help students and instructors alike find issues that have occurred during an overhaul or a diagnostic routine. “I tell my class that I want to see something expensive broken before lunch, because if you’re just practicing or sitting around, nothing is going to break.”

The Alfred auto department provides an infrastructure designed to help students become well prepared for a career in automotive technology. The department has six separate facilities to accommodate freshmen and senior students.

The senior automotive building, which contains the transmission class, has a fully stocked, independently operated parts store that stocks a strong inventory of popular components. An Axiline 9700 dyno provides a valuable teaching tool and also gives students confidence before they install a unit.

The live work nature of the program means that certain makes and models often come in for repair. Students drive trucks, and 4R100s, 47 and 48RE units, 4L60Es, Allisons, and other heavy-duty transmissions are a staple of the overhaul and upgrade portion of the lab section of the course. The department works with a variety of vendors including Transtar, an industry partner for over thirty years.

The course also covers other driveline components: Differential, transfer case, manual transmission, and driveshaft diagnosis and repair compliment the variety of lab projects that are completed every day. Ronan says that, even though his students often get jobs because they aren’t afraid of automatics, one of their favorite mentors is Mike Weinberg, from Rockland Standard Gear!

Alfred State automotive relies on a large faculty in the effort to train students for the world of work. The program is certified by NATEF and is a member of other national consortiums. Faculty members must have at least seven years experience in the field before joining the staff, and are encouraged to participate in national organizations in their field.

Instructor Ronan has served for over a dozen years as an expert on the ASE A1 Automatic Transmissions/Transaxles and A2 Manual Drive Train and Axles tests. He most recently assisted with the composite vehicle design for the L1 Advanced Engine Performance Specialist Certification test. He’s the revision author for the Today’s Technician series Manual Transmission and Transaxles textbook, and is a part-time rebuilder for a busy transmission shop in the area (owned by one of his past students!)

Students learn best when they’re having fun, and Alfred State makes sure they do. The department is always involved in a variety of after-school projects that go beyond the normal course material, but provide experiences that can be as valuable as the technical content.

The Green Grand Prix fuel economy event, held annually at Watkins Glen Raceway, has provided a great experience for Alfred students for many years. They field a number of cars, and have achieved over 113 MPG in a highly modified Honda Insight.

Thirteen students, with faculty, took another Insight to the Bonneville Salt Flats in an attempt to break a class record. That car will return in August with a lot more engine to reach for the 200 MPH barrier. Students competed in the 2015 Great Race from St. Louis to Santa Monica with a 1953 Dodge Power Wagon they rebuilt after it spent years of service in the college maintenance fleet.

Other events demonstrate the civic responsibility that the college encourages. Participation in the Elk Charity Run and the Fireball Run provide recent examples. All of the after-school projects are self-funded with a lot of hard work and fundraising activities.

A strong automotive program like Alfred State’s relies on the success of its students to get the word out. Placement statistics indicate that 99% of Alfred students find employment following graduation. Alumni in turn look to new graduates to fill openings in their shops.

None of this would be possible without industry support, and ATRA has proven the perfect partner to this institution and many others for years. Instructor Ronan has this to say. “ATRA has a long history of providing support not only for its Members, but for the industry in general. My students are fortunate to have ATRA as a key resource in getting them through a tough course and preparing them for a successful career in the best business in the world: fixing cars!”