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November 17, 2014

Feeling at home under the hood

Katie Woodward has always worked with her hands. As a child, she liked blocks and other toys she could build things with. Cars fascinated her.

Katie Woodward works on a headlight circuit during an automotive technology class at UAA. (Photo by Philip Hall/UAA)
Katie Woodward works on a headlight
circuit during an automotive technology
class at UAA.
(Photo by Philip Hall/UAA)
“When I was 9, I helped my uncle and my grandfather when they did tire repairs, oil changes, replaced a starter, worked on an alternator,” she said. “They loved teaching me anything they could. Later, my friends would always ask my opinion with repairing a vehicle, what was wrong with the vehicle through its sound and feel.”

Now, at age 20, Woodward is taking classes in UAA’s Automotive Technology program that will move her toward earning an Associate of Applied Science degree. “I’ve always had a pretty strong pulling toward the automotive field and was set on going to this program from day one,” she said. “I’m learning skills I can hold onto and use for the rest of my life.”

One program, many facets

UAA’s Automotive Technology program moved into its current facility in 1973. It provides courses for people seeking to become auto technicians and required training for working technicians.

Individuals may choose to earn an undergraduate certificate, which prepares a student for a career in automotive maintenance and repair, or an occupational endorsement certificate that provides more specialized knowledge in, for example, automotive electrical, brakes or power trains.

A student may also earn an Associate of Applied Science in automotive technology degree through taking general automotive classes, GM’s Automotive Service Educational Program (GM ASEP) or Ford’s Automotive Student Service Educational Training (ASSET).

The four-semester programs incorporate a prearranged, supervised, evaluated practicum in each of their first three semesters. Students may also move on to receive a Bachelor of Science degree in technology. That degree includes a capstone project incorporating their automotive expertise with, for example, creating highly detailed business plans and budgets for establishing a repair shop.

“One of them proposed a system for streamlining operations at the auto-repair facility where he worked,” GM ASEP assistant professor Darrin Marshall said.

Kelly Smith, director of UAA’s Transportation & Power Division, says the certification and degree options constitute one program with different levels. They do not have separate curricula and they share resources, making it possible to keep the program cost-efficient while offering a variety of academic options to students.

Kelly Smith serves as director of UAA's Transportation & Power Division, which runs automotive technology classes. (Photo by Philip Hall/UAA)
Kelly Smith serves as director of UAA's
Transportation & Power Division, which runs automotive
technology classes. (Photo by Philip Hall/UAA)
“The curriculum for academic programs in automotive technology is developed to provide students with a foundational knowledge first, with additional courses building on that foundation to build expertise in the discipline,” Smith said, adding that people sometimes confuse academic certificates with industry certification. “Continuing education courses in the field are developed with an assumption that the student already has a foundation, and are usually aimed at providing in-depth knowledge of a specific system.”

Forging productive partnerships

UAA’s Automotive Technology program has cultivated mutually beneficial relationships with auto manufacturers and dealerships that save money for the university and enhance the quality and career relevance of the education students receive.

• GM donates late-model vehicles to UAA for students and working technicians to train on, helping GM and its dealerships keep their technicians’ skills current and fill job vacancies with university-trained mechanics familiar with GM vehicles.

• Dealerships provide curriculum advisers, as well as internships automotive students must have as part of their degree and certification requirements—and they often extend job offers to UAA automotive students.

Woodward entered a UAA GM ASEP class in August. Auto technicians must earn National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence certification, which enables them to offer tangible proof of technical expertise. Woodward needs to have two years’ experience in a shop to earn that ASE certification, so she is doing coolant flushes, changing oil and decarbonizing engines in the lube bay at Chevy of South Anchorage.

“It gives you a sense of accomplishment when you fix something that’s important to someone else,” she said.

Infusing an industry with fresh talent

The first “Check Engine” light—a little feature tucked into the dashboard of a 1980 Cadillac Eldorado—marked the birth of computers as diagnostic tools in American cars and trucks. That light also marked the beginning of a decline for a profession many people—primarily men—had first learned from their dads, their oily hands tinkering with socket wrenches on the family car, in the garage at home.

Chris Converse works on a test during his GM Automotive Service Educational Program class at UAA. (Photo by Philip Hall/University of Alaska Anchorage)
Chris Converse works on a test during his
GM Automotive Service Educational Program class at UAA.
(Photo by Philip Hall/University of Alaska Anchorage)
“Over the next two or three years, I saw people looking for a way out,” Smith said. “Not so much the younger beginning technicians at that point, but the guys who had been around for a while, saying, ‘I can’t figure this out.’”

Thirty-five years later, mechanics who stayed in the profession are getting older, approaching retirement age. Car dealerships, independent auto repair businesses, body shops and a host of other businesses seek skilled auto technicians, yet there aren’t enough trained mechanics available to fill 2,500 unfilled jobs GM has stated it has in its dealerships nationwide. The U.S. Department of Labor projects a shortfall in mechanics (and related occupations) of nearly 10,210 per year.

The problem is that cars are now wildly sophisticated, containing engine control modules and infotainment systems and delicate sensors that relay information about such things as excess oxygen and loss of tire pressure, and control the trajectory and velocity of air bags.

“Staying current with the rapid technology changes in the automotive world takes a true desire and constant dedication,” Marshall said. “I love that my job never gets stagnant. I love the challenge of teaching students from the first semester to the last, and in between each semester, teaching GM technicians about the latest technologies. Teaching a student is tough, but an instructor better be on his ‘A’ game when you get a technician in class. I never want to have a technician ask me a technical question that I don’t know the answer, or at least know where to find it.”

Darrin Marshall shows off a multiple diagnostic interface during an automotive technology class he teaches at UAA. (Photo by Philip Hall/UAA)
Darrin Marshall shows off a multiple diagnostic interface
during an automotive technology class he teaches at UAA.
(Photo by Philip Hall/UAA)
Kelly Smith said the profession is no longer about getting greasy and tearing parts apart, figuring them out and putting them back together.

“We need to be recruiting people into the industry who maybe wouldn’t have been attracted to it when I started,” Smith said. “You need to understand what’s really going on or you’re not going to be successful. There are a ton of opportunities across the board, especially automotive, and other industries that understand the transferable skills automotive technicians have.”

Aspiring auto technicians at UAA spend as much time in the classroom as in the garage, learning to calculate horsepower, torque, volume of cylinders, displacement, compression and gear ratios and tolerances inside an engine. They learn about resistance, voltage and amps and how to properly use a scan tool and laptop software to navigate the intricate pathways of a car’s diagnostic computers to find problems that keep a car from operating the way it should.

It’s difficult to get and keep auto technicians who have training that integrates the rigor of a classroom with the industry relevance of hands-on experience, said Randy Carlson, service manager of Anchorage Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram Center, who maintains close ties with UAA’s automotive technology program by serving on its advisory committee.

Dealerships covet aspiring auto technicians who choose to take classes at UAA because getting academic training demonstrates their commitment and maturity, he said.

“They spent their money to get this training compared to someone who comes in from the street with a toolbox and used to change mom’s oil,” Carlson said. “They understand the finer points of this business.”

‘This has been totally awesome’

Randal Smith got his first dirt bike when he was 13 years old. When it broke, he took it apart and sent the motor out of state.

Randal Smith and Daniel Locke show off a sculpture they made out of a transmission they disassembled. A competing team had to take apart and reassemble the sculpture back into a working transmission. (Photo courtesy Darrin Marshall)
Randal Smith and Daniel Locke show off a
sculpture they made out of a transmission they
disassembled. A competing team had to take
apart and reassemble the sculpture back into
a working transmission.
(Photo courtesy Darrin Marshall)
“In the meantime, it was all in this box,” he said. “My neighbor told my parents, ‘That’s a shame you guys spent all this money on a bike and it’s in a box. He’s never going to ride that again.’”

Three days later, that dirt bike was out of that box and back on the trails. “I always had a knack for that,” he said.

Fast-forward 10 years, when Smith and his friend moved from Colorado to Alaska on a whim. They rented a house and found jobs. Smith worked as a roofer. He liked the exercise, working hard outdoors, but on 15-below days he thought about finding something else to do.

“I wanted something more long term, stable, not weather dependent,” he said.

In 2012, Smith enrolled in UAA’s GM ASEP classes and, with the recommendation of his instructor, Darrin Marshall, found a job at Chevy of South Anchorage. In his classes, Smith enjoyed learning the theory of how electricity works and how electrical systems control the other systems in a car. At work, he saw how those theories work, in real life, in a car.

“At Chevy of South Anchorage, they paired me up with a seasoned electrical guy, an ASEP graduate, and I found out electrical is a lot harder hands on than it is on paper,” Smith said. “I’ve made a few mistakes here and there, but over the last year and a half I’ve become more proficient. If it were up to me, I’d do electrical all day, every day. It keeps your brain working as opposed to just your hands. There are 25-30 computers in a car that control different things. If you can excel in the electrical aspect of an auto, you can go anywhere, walk into any shop. You don’t have to ask for an interview—you interview the shop.”

Smith has participated in SkillsUSA competitions, one of the first automotive students to do so. He took a gold medal in the Alaska state competition and earned ninth place nationally in a field of 52 competitors.

He also enjoyed Marshall’s fiendishly difficult “Transmission Sculpture” exercise: a team of students takes apart a transmission and creates a sculpture another team must disassemble and then reassemble into a working transmission.

“It wasn’t just a challenge to put together; it was a challenge to see how far we can take it apart,” Smith said. “In this case, we wanted to challenge the other team, take these tiny pieces apart even further—even one-way roller clutches and sprang clutches. A shop wouldn’t go this far taking a transmission apart.”

Smith will receive his associate degree after completing two more classes: technical writing and introduction to business. He’s now working at Alaska Sales & Service-Valley, in Mat-Su, but wants someday to work on his own.

“Ultimately I want to open my own shop, work for myself, get the benefits of being an entrepreneur,” Smith said. “Going through this program at UAA has given me the tools to do it. This has been totally awesome—by far one of the best things I’ve ever done.”

Written by Tracy Kalytiak, UAA Office of University Advancement. This article originally appeared in Green & Gold News on Oct. 29, 2014.

November 13, 2014

KTUU covers UAA aviation in its Tech Beat

Local news reporter Garrett Turner of NBC affiliate KTUU Anchorage Channel 2 covered the state-of-the-art equipment used to train students in UAA's Aviation Technology Division. Check out the story that aired on Nov. 11, during the station's Tech Beat.

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November 1, 2014

Aviation road trip

Shipped from Italy, assembled in Florida and painted in Richmond, UAA’s new P2006T twin-engine trainer is now safe at home in the Seawolf hangar. (Photo by Philip Hall/University of Alaska Anchorage)
Shipped from Italy, assembled in Florida and painted in Richmond, UAA’s
new P2006T twin-engine trainer is now safe at home in the Seawolf hangar.
(Photo by Philip Hall/University of Alaska Anchorage)
There’s a new kid on the block at UAA’s aviation campus and he’s sleek, young and Italian.

And he’s an airplane.

The TECNAM P2006T on the prairies of Hettinger, N.D. en route to Anchorage. (Photo by Ash Burrill)
The TECNAM P2006T on the prairies of Hettinger, N.D.
en route to Anchorage. (Photo by Ash Burrill)
The brand new TECNAM P2006T touched down at Merrill Field earlier this month after a long journey that started at the TECNAM factory in southern Italy. Shipped from Naples, assembled in Florida and painted in Richmond, the new arrival is fresh off a weeklong jaunt across the continent. The twin-engine trainer is now safe and sound at the Seawolf hangar and ready to accelerate the careers of UAA’s professional piloting students.

The plane had a long journey from Italy to Anchorage, but an even longer road through development. UAA’s Aviation Technology Division has been collecting bids and drafting proposals for over a year and, after narrowing options and researching potentials, the department opted for the TECNAM P2006T. After decades of acquiring used planes, the fuel-efficient twin-engine is the first new plane ever purchased by UAA.

“There are a lot of planes out there that are designed not just as trainers, but also to satisfy a small business use or the private market,” explained Rocky Capozzi, director of the Aviation Technology Division. “The plane we bought at TECNAM is really designed from the ground up to be a trainer and to satisfy the FAA’s definition for requirements of a twin-engine trainer.”

The view over Watson Lake in Yukon Territory during Ash’s week-long aviation road trip. (Photo by Ash Burrill)
The view over Watson Lake in Yukon Territory
during Ash’s week-long aviation road trip.
(Photo by Ash Burrill)
That’s perfect news for UAA students, who spend hundreds of hours working through a number of planes before graduation day. The final step of the ladder is the twin-engine and, prior to the recent purchase from TECNAM, the program had only one twin-engine for students to train on—a 1969 model PA-30 “Twin Comanche” that took its first flight before several students’ parents were even born. All UAA planes undergo thorough maintenance every 50 hours of flight time, but the aging Comanche—acquired by UAA in 2005—still requires a bit more TLC. Sometimes the ’69 Comanche stayed grounded for days as mechanics searched for discontinued parts to make necessary repairs. With a growing student population, the fleet needed to expand.

“We’re having more flying now then they’ve ever had,” explained flight operations general manager Ash Burrill, who arranges training sessions for UAA piloting students. “Part of it is [the number of] students; part of it is streamlining the process and having the right equipment.” With an expanded fleet to meet student needs, plus a new online reservation system designed by a UAA aviation student, more students are locking in more hours on more planes than ever before in the program.

“In the last year our graduates are all getting hired with multiple job offers. Every one of them,” Ash said. “The demand is there, and the industry’s ramping up too.”

“My goal is to have three things,” he continued. “If I have a plane, an instructor and 4 or 5 blocks a week for each student, I’m seeing that students are finishing their program in 30 to 50 percent less time for each rating.”

The TECNAM takes another daily pit stop in Missoula International Airport in west Montana. (Photo by Ash Burrill)
The TECNAM takes another daily pit stop in
Missoula International Airport in west Montana.
(Photo by Ash Burrill)
The ratings he’s referring to are the three levels of planes students pass through in the program. First flights are taken in the fleet of Diamond DA20s before graduating to Cessna 172s. The final tier of the piloting program is the multi-engine, including the Twin Comanche and, now, the new TECNAM.

TECNAM specs

The new TECNAM comes equipped with state-of-the-art navigation and communication tools, including the Garmin 950 GPS system. The multi-screen platform lists everything from upcoming topography to airport approach paths to passing planes in the area. It features a list of every airport in the world—from Sydney to Shaktoolik—and lists the length of each runway and whether it’s paved or gravel, lit or dark. Additionally, the GPS provides radio frequencies for ground contacts so incoming pilots can quickly learn surface air pressure and what to prepare for from the folks at the airstrip.

And that’s just the GPS.

Ash and Graham landed next to 747s and cargo jets at Edmonton, Alb. (Photo by Ash Burrill)
Ash and Graham landed next to 747s and cargo
jets at Edmonton, Alb. (Photo by Ash Burrill)
The engines are another signature feature, boasting fuel economy nearly twice as good as comparable trainers. Most planes rely on high-octane avgas (aviation gasoline) designed specifically for aircraft. The TECNAM, though, can use standard mogas (motor gasoline), which comes with a slew of advantages. “Avgas can be twice the price of normal automotive fuel, so there’s a huge price differential between the two,” explained Phil Solomon, CFO of Mid-Atlantic Air Ventures—TECNAM’s senior sales agent in the States.

Aside from cost, the engines burn less fuel overall. When used for typical training—set routes, including periods with only one engine in use—the plane uses 7.5 gallons per hour of flight. Even on a straight-shot 500-mile flight, the TECNAM would still use only 11 gallons per hour. “When you compare with most typical twins used for training, they’ll use between 18 and 20 gallons per hour,” Phil said, “And it has to be Avgas.”

One more benefit—the mogas-compatible engines are relatively less noisy than their competitors. “From a road perspective, its much quieter,” said Phil. “So environmentally it’s a good choice, cost-wise it’s a good choice and noise wise it’s a good choice.”

The view from the plane on the last leg over Alaska. (Photo by Ash Burrill)
The view from the plane on the last leg over Alaska.
(Photo by Ash Burrill)
When asked for his favorite features, Ash agreed with Phil—the engines are a huge improvement. “The fuel economy is probably the thing I’m impressed with most, with a close second being the avionics,” he said.

Avionics, simply put, are the electronics of aviation. “Avionics are the technological interaction you have with the plane to utilize navigation and communication systems,” Ash said. “It’s the equipment used to navigate and properly fly the plane.” With up-to-date equipment and operating systems, the TECNAM’s electric systems are top-of-the-line features that will prepare UAA students for careers in the industry.

“This purchase is beneficial in multiple ways,” Ash noted. “It provides students with a more advanced avionics suite, as well as a much different and more efficient multi-engine trainer that they didn’t have available prior.”

Aerial road trip

As the point person for pilot trainings, Ash earned a trip to Virginia to fly the new addition home to the hangar. A TECNAM rep—Graham Frye—joined him for the ride back to train him on the plane’s systems.

UAA’s first-ever brand new plane touched down at Merrill Field on Sept. 18 after five days of flying and over a year of planning. (Photo by Andrew Gichard, Aviation Technology Division/UAA Community & Technical College)
UAA’s first-ever brand new plane touched down at Merrill Field
on Sept. 18 after five days of flying and over a year of planning.
(Photo by Andrew Gichard, Aviation Technology Division,
UAA Community & Technical College)
Ash’s first stop was the dealership in Richmond, Virginia, where the plane received vinyl striping to match UAA’s shades of green and gold. From there, Ash and Graham hopscotched across the continent en route to Anchorage, dipping in and out of airfields and airports in Michigan, Montana, the Yukon and beyond. Despite traveling by plane, their journey still featured the facets of the All-American road trip. Plotting a course through small towns, figuring when (and where) to fill up the tank, programming the GPS and finding a place to stay at the end of the night. The only thing missing was the playlist of drive day tunes, replaced by the crackling code-speak coming through their radios.

Like any good road trip, the plans were pretty fluid—with an advanced communication system in the new plane, it was easy to find alternative airstrips and make appropriate changes. For example, when an oil company snapped up every available hotel room in central Alberta, the pair cut their day a little shorter and pulled into the Edmonton International Airport alongside 747s and cargo carriers.

After a week-long road trip together, Graham Frye hands off the keys to the TECNAM P2006T to Ash Burrill in the UAA hangar. (Photo by Andrew Gichard, Aviation Technology Division/UAA Community & Technical College)
After a week-long road trip together, Graham Frye hands off the
keys to the TECNAM P2006T to Ash Burrill in the UAA hangar.
(Photo by Andrew Gichard, Aviation Technology Division,
 UAA Community & Technical College)
Finally, after five days of flying, the TECNAM pulled in sight of Anchorage. Ash called ahead to rally the welcome wagon on campus. “It was quite a lot of fun,” he said of the arrival at Merrill Field. “A lot of people from the division came out, especially the flight instructors and the teachers.”

It’s long journey complete, the new plane is now wrapping up layers of licensing and paperwork (and boasting final Seawolf logos) and will be ready for flight instructors to train on soon. It’s fuel-efficient, cost-effective and an overall boon to the aviation division on multiple fronts.

“I would say the number one benefit is having a reliable, cutting-edge-technology trainer that will help [students] transition into their careers and be able to correctly utilize and understand different systems,” Ash said.

After spending an entire workweek cooped in TECNAM’s cockpit, he’s already itching to get the plane out of the hangar and back on the runway for his students to fly.

Welcome home, TECNAM.

TECNAM P2006T (Photo by Philip Hall/University of Alaska Anchorage)
Photo by Philip Hall/University of Alaska Anchorage

Written by J. Besl, UAA Office of University Advancement. This article originally appeared in Green & Gold News on Oct. 22, 2014.