Underhood: A/C Service Equipment: We’ve Got It Good These Days
Keeley Whitmer plans for a career as a master tech and diagnostician or field service engineer.
Keeley Whitmer is a senior honor student in the Automotive Technology program at Forsythe Central High School in Forsythe, GA. She is vice president of the Skills USA Chapter and reigning SkillsUSA automotive electrical state champion, National Technical Honor Society chapter president, star student of the automotive program, varsity letter cross country and track athlete and intern at RBM Mercedes of Alpharetta, GA.
What first got you interested in automotive service as a potential career path?
Ever since middle school, I’ve been in engineering classes and shop classes. Coach Miranda had a camp for eighth graders that taught some basic automotive procedures like tire rotations and oil changes. That was the first time I ever really did something on a car and I found out that I liked working on them.
When I got into high school, I realized how much all the physics and the engineering were integrated into fixing a car. It wasn’t just changing parts, it was diagnosing what was wrong with them. When we got to electrical diagnosis, I absolutely fell in love.
I got to diagnose my own check engine light and why it wasn’t coming on – I got to work with the schematics and see what wires go where and how signals flow. I got to use the scan tool to turn on and off my check engine light – it wouldn’t come on, but it would say that it was working. So I took apart the instrument cluster to check the bulb.
It turned out that someone had opened the instrument cluster and put a piece of electrical tape on the inside of the instrument cluster. It was frustrating, but also very satisfying to diagnose it and realize what was actually wrong.That was the first time that I really took apart a dash of a car. That was when I knew I really want to do this for a living.
Do your technical and honors classes complement each other?
It goes both ways. Whenever I’m learning something in physics, I can apply it in the shop. And whenever I’m applying that in the shop, it helps me fully understand it and get hands-on experience doing it so that I retain it better. I’m able to explain it to someone better. It’s the same thing with electricity. Learning how a solenoid works, how a rheostat works and how a variable resistor works, really came into play when I was working on my truck fuel level gauge.
When I got to go in physics I knew how to use a meter because we used the meter in automotive class first. I knew how to do a voltage drop, knew how to do a current measurement, knew how to do a resistance reading on a component. And all of those skills are transferred between all of my engineering classes and my physics classes, whether I’m diagnosing a car or I’m doing a lab in physics. It’s all really a giant lab.
Can you also transfer that knowledge to your fellow students?
We had an engineering project to build a Christmas decoration with blinking lights. My friend was trying to diagnose the subject because he couldn’t figure out why our lights wouldn’t blink. I got my meter and we started measuring voltage drops. I was able to teach him how to use a meter and how to make current measurements. We ended up having to calculate the total resistance of our circuit, which was good because we could compare the circuit in parallel and series circuits that we were working with.
I usually get to teach a lot of hands-on types of concepts, but I also get to help my classmates in physics with those concepts too. But everything that I do, I’m always trying to teach somebody or learn from someone else.
Tell us about your internship.
I’ve been working at RBM Mercedes-Benz of Alpharetta since the beginning of September. I’ve been working with a master technician who is in charge of the express team, so I’ve been doing tire rotations, oil changes, all the regular things an express tech would do. Every once in a while, my boss will give me tasks figuring out how some sensors work; and we’ve had some really cool exploring activities.
You have a lot going on. How are you able to balance it all?
Currently I’m doing track and field, my school classes with STEM, my internship on Saturdays, and I’m a drummer in band at my church. With track, it de-stresses me and I can get focused again. And with church, same thing – I love playing drums, so whenever I get a chance to play the drums, I’m always on it and always ready to go.
Basically, it’s a lot of getting stuff done whenever I have spare time. I actually end up with a good bit of extra time too. But the most important thing is making time for everyone else who needs you, like your family and your friends and all of those people that support you are there for you, even your teacher, sometimes just going in and saying hi. When you have those types of priorities and you have them lined up and straight, you won’t have an issue with it.
Tell us about your plans for the future.
My plans are to go to Southern Illinois University and dual major in electrical engineering and automotive technology. This really is a combination of both of my greatest passions, physics concepts and electrical engineering. I like thinking abstractly. I like imagining how things would flow and how signals would flow and how electricity would follow certain paths.
Electrical engineering is also the future of our industry. More and more cars are becoming electric. More and more cars have more and more sensors. All the cars have, have different computer modules. We’re getting ready to feature FlexRay in our Mercedes cars, which is a different type of signal carry wire, which none of us know a lot about yet.
I would really like to be either a master tech and a diagnostician or a field service engineer. Just something where I’m challenged every day and where there’s always something new. I love continuously learning and always having something to do and always having a new mystery to find. When you do something that you love every day, it’s not work, it’s just fun.
Keeley’s high school instructor, Marlo Miranda, says “I’ve been teaching for 29 years and in that time, I don’t think that I’ve ever met such a driven, hardworking young person. You don’t ever have to wonder what she’s doing or why she’s doing it. And she’s always willing to give 110% to everything she does.
“She is so passionate about everything she does that you see her work so hard to accomplish things and she makes things really easy for you to know where she stands and what she’s trying to do.
“It’s not just that she’s a great student – she’s a great person. She knows exactly what she wants out of life. And that’s very rare for students her age. Nominating Keeley was an easy choice.”