Manhattan Project - Student Becomes the Teacher At Kansas Alma Mater
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Manhattan Project: Student Becomes Teacher At Alma Mater

I had an in-depth interest and understanding of anything mechanical at a very young age. This was influenced greatly by my dad and grandfather working on the family farm. We did not have the opportunity to just replace things when they were worn out or broken so we had to repair and sometimes improve the mechanical design to add longevity and durability.

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After completing the two-year Automotive program at Manhattan Area Technical College in 1991 I worked at a small privately-owned repair facility to gain the experience I needed to take my first ASE certification test. I obtained master certification in 1993.

Jeff Pishney, automotive instructor at Manhattan Area Technical College, Manhattan, Kansas was named April’s B’laster Instructor of the Year Finalist.

My work history from this point was, in a word, diversified. I worked as a technician and shop manager for several small shops, returning to the family farm for a few years as principle operator after my grandfather passed. I became a truck driver and owned three trucks at one time, moving ag and refrigerated goods in the Midwest. Before looking into the instructor opportunity, I worked as a service advisor and assistant service manager for a new car dealership.

I could see the importance of continuing my education and went back to college. During this time the opportunity to apply for an instructor came my way. Recognizing the need to help future technicians get a better foothold was of great importance to me. I’ll admit that I was a little nervous about becoming an instructor and the overall weight of a position like this, but I had great support from my supervisors and co-workers. To this day, it has been the most rewarding and fulfilling occupation I have had.

Along with the great experience I’ve had as instructor, I’ve been able to continue my education and certifications. I’ve obtained L1 advanced level specialties with ASE and am close to the completion of a Bachelors’ Degree in Career and Technical Education.

Jeff Pishny assists a student under a car during shop instruction time.

I’ve been an instructor for 6 years now and each year has been as much a learning experience for me as for the students. Understanding this part of it is the most important part of teaching CTE. You must be able to change every year and sometime daily to work with the students needs and making sure to incorporate the latest technology in my instruction.

We recently took our courses to the local high school, Manhattan High, and we’ve been teaching on their campus too, going back and forth between the college and the high school. We had to do a separate accreditation for the high school. They had struggled to get that done over the past three years and we got it done in six months. So, we’re very proud of that.

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We’ll work with about 80 students in a semester, between the two locations. MATC is a two-year program; about 30 students in there during the year, with about 16 starting each fall. We offset classes morning and afternoon so they’re not all there at the same time. The high school varies quite a bit. We average about 50 students a semester, teaching two hours in the morning, two hours in the afternoon. We have one block period that we can do 90 minutes once a week with them, as well, to get our tasks done in the shop.

Building a relationship with the students is based on trust. We work on projects from outside of the college including my own vehicles. When they see that you as an instructor are willing to let them work on your car they understand the trust part. We also work together so they learn that even mistakes are part of the learning process. We always make sure a lesson is gained from a mistake too.

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The current situation, with quarantining and social isolation has been a tremendous struggle, though I think it’s been a bigger struggle for me than them. It’s a great challenge, though, to take what we’re used to and completely change the format. It’s been challenging and been frustrating at the same time.

Luckily, our whole curriculum, including textbooks and papers, is now online. It’s really streamlined things for the shop and for the students giving them more diversity in what they can do and where they can do it. Every student has a laptop so they have access to repair data right at every tool box in conjunction with their task sheets through ASE.

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We do not have conventional students. They’ll range anywhere from 18 years old to 45 years old. Building a relationship with such a range of students is vital to instruction. A lot of life happens to students over a two-year period and helping them deal with life is part of your instruction. As I graduated from this program 30 years ago, worked in a diverse number of mechanical related jobs, and have successfully raised 3 children. Happily married and enjoying life. I bring all this to my instruction and working with students every day.

To be named a finalist for the B’laster Instructor of the Year program means an added opportunity to highlight our Automotive Technology program and the student’s success. I couldn’t be more proud.

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