This month, Tomorrow’s Technician and B’laster recognize an automotive instructor whose passion for excellence – and fun – encourage his students to not only work hard but love their work. Our March finalist in the annual “B’laster Instructor of the Year” program believes that pride in their abilities and in themselves will give his students the best chance for success.
Words by Nic Wages
I’m a self-taught, ASE certified master technician with L-1 advanced performance certification, and have been with my hometown school system for 15 years. Before I started in the classroom, I had worked at parts stores, at body shops, at local shops and I had my own shop.
Ever since I was 13 or 14 years old, I’ve been working on cars.
My grandfather was a shipbuilder on the Gulf of Mexico in Pascagoula, Mississippi. When he retired from shipbuilding, he just started fixing up old cars. I started helping him repair and restore vintage automobiles and trucks – I was real young but gained a lot of experience from that. And I started fixing everybody’s car around me after that.
I had worked as a technician for some shops, and that’s hard work. I had my own shop – owning and managing the shop, paying employees, dealing with customers – that was some REALLY hard work. I’m definitely a hard worker, but I just really wanted to concentrate more on doing good and helping others succeed so I felt there was a better option out there for me.
Actually, in the early 2000s, I’d stepped out of the automotive industry and got into the construction industry for about four years. I actually have a bachelor’s in operation production management from The University of Southern Mississippi. I went into construction management for four years and simply hated it. I couldn’t stand being behind that computer, couldn’t stand having meetings and doing budgets, scheduling and specifications. I wanted to DO something.
I hated the job and when the teaching opportunity came up at Jackson County I knew it’s what I needed to do.
I had an uncle who worked here at that time, and he called me one day and said, “Nic, they’re thinking about putting an automotive program here at the technology center.” I left work right then, got in my truck and drove right up to this place. I walked in and saw the director and I introduced myself as his new automotive instructor, whether he knew it or not.
They required candidates to have four of the eight ASE certifications, which was kind of a blessing. I’d always wanted to get certified, but I’d never been required to do so. With my experience I knew that wasn’t going to be a problem.
Today, I’m a big pusher for the ASE exams and, as a matter of fact, two and a half years ago my program was ASE education foundation certified. I push the student ASE certifications in my class, particularly concentrating on Maintenance and Light Repair and electrical. Nearly all of my second-year students have gotten their certifications and most of them are working on their second and third too.
I believe that you learn automotive, kind of like I did: by doing it and by working under other master technicians throughout my life. I don’t push book time or computer time, I push shop time. We first learn safety, of course; that’s the number one priority. And then we learn how to use each piece of equipment and then we just start using it.
Our project cars in class come from a variety of sources. Two cars are junk cars that were donated. Some of the work is students’ cars; they bring in their own vehicles that need work and fix them. And then the other quarter is people that are in the building.
Some of the cars are my personal vehicles – I have a decent collection and some of the kids think they’re really nice. In all honesty, they’re not all really that nice, but I do have a 1964 GTO that, 15 years ago, was the first car in here when I opened up this program. I said the first thing we’re doing it in this class is rebuilding that engine. Over the course of 15 years we wore that motor out and we are actually planning to build another motor for it.
The car stays in here. You know, we put radios in it and take them out, we service the transmission, brakes, rotate and balance the tires… if there’s something they can work on, by golly, my students are going to fix it. I can tell you that right away.
My passion for solving problems in vehicles that others give up on may be seen in our solar car. It was actually built by another automotive program about 13 years ago – they had raced it in one of those long races in the desert somewhere. They lost interest in it and gave it to another school that really jacked it up. They pushed it back behind their school for at least seven or eight years. They were looking to clean up the campus so they asked me, “Hey, Mr. Junkyard man, do you want it?” We brought it in, and really without having to purchase anything, we got it to work.
Singing River Electric, right here on the coast, gave us a $2,500 grant so we bought new solar panels and new batteries for it, we got it all wired up and working. Right now we’re doing some modifications to the frame, just to put our special touch on it.
Being associated with B’laster as an Instructor of the Year finalist is, to me, as big a deal as having my ASE Master certification. I believe in the product. I use it; I’ve sold it; it’s a miracle product. I joke with my kids about how much I love it and they like to tease me about it. We definitely like to have a lot of fun in class.
Nic Wages is a Master ASE certified technician, graduate from University of Southern Mississippi and lifelong resident of Vancleave, MS. Wages has taught at the Jackson County Technology Center for 15 years and has over 25 years of experience in the automotive industry. He believes in using an active-running automotive repair shop model to demonstrate and teach students diagnostic, effective repair techniques and provide a real world example of success in the automotive industry.