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Bob Mauger admits that he has held a number of enviable jobs in his life but never found a career he loved until he got hit in the head.
“I worked at a motorcycle shop at 16; located underground utilities; was service manager with a high end boat dealership, bringing in $1.5 million in service to my center every year; I was the internal IT manager for an LA-based internet company, working with computers that did digital iris scans for security; a buddy and I started to dabble in graphic design work and ended up doing custom graphic wrap and Roush stripes on Mustangs and F-150s. I was a lineman and fiber optic splicer for AT&T and Verizon…but it wasn’t until I volunteered at my daughter’s school that I found my calling.”
Mauger, the Automotive Technology instructor at Corona High School, Corona, CA, is the December finalist in B’laster’s Corporation’s “2021 Instructor of the Year” competition and says getting involved on a volunteer basis led to his dream opportunity.
“I found my calling,” he says. “I got really involved in my daughter’s elementary school. I became the PTA president and started chapter of the Watch D.O.G.S., which stands for Dads of Great Students. It was a program to get more dads on campus to give students a positive male role model, because a lot of kids didn’t have that. I’d have two or three dads every day on campus to just have lunch with the students or play with them at recess.”
The district Mauger works in operates its Intensive Intervention Program, for kids who are diagnosed emotionally disturbed. “For six years I worked with ED kids at a high school,” he says. “It was very challenging, very physical. There were times we would actually have to fully restrain a kid from hurting himself or hurting others.”
The program is designed to help kids with emotional disturbance and a disability move into mainstream classes with support, to help them just get through high school. “I love the program,” says Mauger. “It was rewarding to work with a kid who would often become physically violent and help them to manage anger and outbursts, so they could stay on task and be successful. After working with students one-on-one for several months, I was able to get them into mainstream classes. I also helped a student get on the football team and was proud of him when he graduated.”
Mauger recalls a number of low times as well. “I was probably at the hospital four times in six years from being injured. I was the biggest guy in the program, so when a kid was really having a physical issue, they’d send me and I took my licks. They knew we couldn’t fight back, so I got punched, kicked, bit, spit on – a lot of it wasn’t them being mean or malicious, it was just how their brain functioned.”
Mauger says during that time he was finishing his bachelor’s degree in Social and Criminal Justice. “My original plan was to get into juvenile probation, but after working with special ed students, I realized that this is where I needed to be.”
He minored in child development and earned five teaching credentials. At his alma mater, he began working with the auto shop teacher taking students into mainstream classes.
“I would assist my kids in the auto shop class, which was cool because it was the same class I was in 25 years prior,” Mauger says, fully expecting to eventually take over the program.
That high school moved its program from automotive instruction to mechatronics, so Mauger found an opportunity nearly five years ago with Corona High School automotive program.
He says when he first took over this program in 2016, he did not know what to expect. “When I was handed the keys to the shop and walked through that door for the first time, I found that the shop was a complete mess with cars, miscellaneous parts, broken equipment, broken tools, half-done projects and just junk,” he says. “I spent a whole month during the summer (unpaid) and gutted the shop, moved equipment, moved cars, and threw away three dumpsters full of oily and greasy parts.”
Those early disappointments were soon rectified, Mauger says. “I contacted our CTE coordinator with a floor plan and a long list of wants and needs that were all met before the first day of school.
“Since then, I have built this program into a fully functioning shop using current industry standard tools and equipment. The previous program had low student numbers and students would not be in it for more than a year or two. My first year, I had 98 students, all in a first year Auto 1 class. My second year, I had 174 students sign up for my Auto program and I have now created 3-year and 4-year pathways for college and career readiness,” he says.
“My students are using top of the line Snap-on tools and are earning certifications for Service Information, Battery, Starting and Charging, Engine Diagnostics, Digital Multimeters, Precision Measurement Instruments, ProCut On-Car brake lathes and Entry-Level ASE.”
Mauger says it usually isn’t a problem to find projects for his students.
“I try to find long-term projects so that when I’ve got students who are really going fast through the curriculum, I can put them on a car and say, ‘Hey, we need to pull the struts out of this car,’ or some other project. That way, the kids who are working faster than the rest always have something hands-on to do. I’ve had seven or eight cars donated so there’s always a project. Plus, I always have teachers hitting us up for brakes and tires and stuff like that,” Mauger acknowledges.
“My first year of the program, is just basically teaching the students a little bit about the automotive industry, how a car works the different systems and how to maintain it. Every student will own a car at some point and they need to know that. You can’t just hop in a car, turn the key and go. I teach them the basic stuff. If they like it, then they stay with me for two, three or four years.
Mauger says he owes his love of automotive service to an early start with his father. “I grew up in New Jersey, and my dad was a weekend racer. He had a 1971 AMC Hornet station wagon with a 304 V-8 and dual exhausts. One weekend we’d be in the mountains camping and the next we’d be at a racetrack on the East Coast drag racing. It was my dad’s daily driver, but he’d pull up at the drag strip and go up against a ’60s or ’70s Mustang. The announcer would be laughing about it ‘a station wagon?’ – but my dad would usually win.”
The elder Mauger was an Air Force mechanic who worked on Mace Missiles, but his first love was wrenching – and his son quickly grew to love it too.
Unfortunately, as the youngest of three sons, he didn’t get the AMC wagon. “My oldest brother got the car when we moved to California, and he blew the motor twice, blew the transmission… I never did get that car,” Mauger laughs.
What he did get was a 1969 Honda CL90 motorcycle that the two gearheads restored. And that project developed into a love for restoration almost as powerful as his love for education.
“While vacationing in Northern Washington State, I saw a 1959 Chevy Apache Fleetside truck abandoned in a field. I contacted the owner and inquired about this forgotten beauty. He stated that he had found the truck, abandoned in the floodplain of the Skagit River near Rockport, WA, buried under a bunch of blackberry bushes. The truck was complete with the original 235 inline 6 and 3 speed manual transmission. I thought this would be a great restoration project for my students, so I purchased the truck for $800 and brought it back to sunny California,” Mauger says.
His students completely disassembled the truck and spent two months scraping river mud and rust off the frame. “Over the next three years, my students went through every inch of the truck and replaced structural metal that had been rusted out but kept the original exterior patina look. We now use this truck to represent the program at car shows and in parades, where students will work to prep the truck and talk to show goers about the history of the truck and what they have done to it. We have local automotive sponsors who supply us with parts and allow my students work at their open house or car shows. It’s been a great project because the students have something they can be proud of and show off their hard work and dedication.”
Mauger says the truck makes a great recruiting tool, even with students as young as fifth graders. “Yeah, we hit the junior high schools. I’ll take it to school so the kids can see it and we bring fifth graders to campus to tour our program. I do a little tool challenge with the kids to make it a little competitive and get them involved. I’ve got these inexpensive tool sets that are in the roll up bag – we’ll mix all the tools up and the kids race to see who can put them back in the right slot space the fastest. It’s a hit, and I’ve even had the superintendent doing it at one of our expos, competing against the kids.”
“My school is really heavy on career tech programs, with a wood shop, a metal shop, an engineering lab, even an aviation program with full flight simulators in it. The district finally realized, about five or six years ago, that only 40 percent of kids go to college. When they revamped all these classes as career and technical education, instead of industrial arts, all of this federal funding was opened up.”
This year, of course, “open” has been hard to come by. “I feel so bad for the kids, especially my seniors from last spring, because, those were my first group of four-year students,” Mauger recalls. “I called a bunch of my buddies and we took the ’59, a GTO, a Cadillac, a Corvette and a Challenger and we did a rolling car show. I contacted my Snap-on rep, told him the situation, and Snap-on donated a ratcheting wrench set to each one of my students. I also went and had graduation stoles made that said Automotive and we did a little drive by graduation for those kids.”
For all the difficulties Mauger and his students are facing, he says being recognized as a finalist for B’laster’s Instructor of the Year is more about his program and his students than himself.
“I love bringing recognition to my program,” he says. “I think auto shops for ages have always kind of had a little stigma about them, about being the greasers, or the bad kids who will never make it in college – and that’s not what it is today.”
Mauger points with pride to a recent success story.
“One of my graduates from last year is going to Chaffey Junior College, which has a great automotive program. She had a 99% in the class when she graduated. This is not a class for the troublemakers and the kids who have nowhere else to go. As teachers, we’re not necessarily always recognized at what we’re doing for the students, so I thank B’laster and Tomorrow’s Technician for doing that.”
Mauger says he’s finished looking for his next career opportunity. “I’m going to be that old, bald, crusty 65-year-old auto shop teacher. I’m already bald, so I don’t have to worry about that part. But I truly found my passion. I’m working with cars and I’m working with kids, and those are my two favorite things to do.”
Mauger says he has partnered with several local businesses that offer his students internship hours and obtaining part-time and full-time employment. “I am providing futures for these students who may not have had positive opportunities had they of stayed on the path they were headed. I have built relationships with these students to where they come back to visit after they have graduated,” Mauger says.
He recalls during his first year, teaching one student how to mount and balance tires. “He was great. I got him a job at a local tire store his senior year – now he’s manager of his own store in Huntington Beach. He called me up and said, ‘Hey, I’m coming to take you to lunch.’ He pulls up in this brand new Dodge Charger Scat Pack and gives me a hug and says, ‘I couldn’t have done any of this without you.’
“That’s why I do my job,” says Bob Mauger. “I’m creating careers.”
The B’laster Corporation – makers of the penetrant, PB B’laster – is again searching for the third annual automotive technology B’laster Instructor of the Year. In partnership with Tomorrow’s Technician magazine, B’laster will again recognize exceptional automotive technology instructors at high schools, vo-tech programs and community colleges across the United States.
Each month, Tomorrow’s Tech and B’laster will choose an instructor story to feature in an online interview format. Seven instructor stories will be chosen from November 2020 through April 2021, and those instructors will be entered into the final round to be named the B’laster Instructor of the Year in May 2021.
Automotive technology instructors are invited to nominate themselves, or students and community members can nominate their instructors that are doing an exceptional job. Nominations can be submitted here.