Tomorrow’s Technician and B’laster are once again looking for instructors who “think outside of the toolbox” with the second-annual “B’laster Instructor of the Year” program. Our February Finalist shares how custom projects help his students learn the collision and refinishing skills they need to succeed and display their talents.
Words by Jeff Wilson
I was raised in the automotive industry. My father was the owner-operator of E-Tag Wreckers in Houston, Texas, as well as a storage lot, salvage lot for salvage part sales and new parts, body shop, paint shop and repair facilities. Needless to say, my hands have been covered in grease or paint most of my life. I used what I learned growing up in the industry and combined it with my degree to start teaching the future of our industry.
My initial priority was to go into engineering, but my first job offers came as teaching positions. After thinking it would be smart to go ahead and apply as an educator, I thought I would work there until I found an engineering job. Needless to say, I found my calling. Twenty-five plus years later, I’m still teaching and enjoying every moment. There’s no better feeling in the world than seeing our youth succeed.
As a collision and refinishing teacher in Kingwood, Texas, I believe that I foster a similar outlook among my peers: to honor the collision and refinishing industry as well as teach B’laster’s core values. I do my best to treat my students as actual employees and give them real-world experiences. I set the course expectations high and deliver what it takes to help my students better themselves at a higher level to prepare them for post-graduation and entering the automotive industry.
I try to impress upon students the need for intellectual curiosity, creativity and passion for the collision and refinishing industry. I teach students their freshman, sophomore, junior and senior years in automotive basics, collision repair and advanced refinishing courses. All my students are talented young technicians who give insightful creative ideas to group and class discussions, as well as major projects. I enourage and require the verbal skills and depth of thought that will be an asset to the industry upon graduation.
I am passionate about connecting with people across all skill levels, whether that means exploring new ideas through collaborating with local area businesses or opening ideas allowing my peers to participate in creating an out-of-the-box custom project.
I work closely with my students on their major refinishing tasks for high profile projects like Harley-Davidson. I started a relationship with a local Harley Davidson dealer, Texan Harley-Davidson, in 2012 as a way for students to get more hands-on experience. After visiting with some of the management there, two important figures (Red and Josh) approached me and asked me what they could do to help my students better prepare themselves to move on after graduation. My reply was simple: we need wrecked and damaged matching tin sets that my students could fix and custom paint.
Through the partnership, we ended up creating a contest. The dealership gives the program Harley tin sets, and the students perform custom repairs and paint the tin sets. The dealership then judges the tin sets and showcases the winner all year at its store. After a few years we started getting request from outside vendors and companies to do paint jobs on their tin sets. We also painted a donated tin set for the Wounded Warrior Project called “Dressed Blues.” It generally takes a group of students around four months to complete a tin set.
My students have also worked on custom vehicles. A student here was given the family van as his first ride. Needless to say, he said, “If I’m going to drive a van, it’s going to be a cool one.” So he came to me and my students and asked if we could do it. Well, we did and painted it like the Mystery Machine from Scooby Doo. Custom work is where the students really shine.
Beyond special projects, the program expectations are for each student to become I-CAR Platinum certified in non-structural and refinishing before graduation. To date, I have a 100 percent passing rate for every student going through the program since 2013.
Beyond studies and volunteer work with the community’s automotive issues, I broadened my student’s horizons by working on live vehicles. I speak highly of working close with the public’s vehicles and teaching my students about the different obstacles and new techniques and applications I have learned.
As an instructor I instill hard-working, thoughtful, charismatic and open-minded attitudes along with clear commitment to refinishing.
Jeff Wilson is the Career and Technology Education Department Chair and Collision and Refinishing instructor at Kingwood Park High School. He has taught at the Humble ISD for more than 25 years. Wilson grew up in the industry, but started out as an iron worker. He earned his Industrial Technology and Engineering degree, with a minor in education, from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. His first education job was teaching welding at Humble High School in Humble, Texas. When the district built a new high school, Kingwood Park, Wilson started their then new Collision and Refinishing program.