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Wednesday, 11 May 2016 23:41

Alhambra High Auto Program in CA Receives State and National Recognition

Alhambra High

Kevin Christensen receives his gold medal at the SkillsUSA California competition.

Courtesy of Alhambra High School

Alhambra High School has a few new trophies to show-off, thanks to the top-tier talent coming out of the school’s fantastic auto program.

Fifteen Alhambra High students competed in SkillsUSA California, a statewide career and technical education competition where participants showcase their career skills. AHS students competed in auto repair, diesel repair, welding, motorcycle repair, and technical math. The event took place in San Diego in early April.

The students are led by Automotive Technology Instructor Brian Wheeler, who speaks with pride about his what he calls “a great crop of students.” He calls it a “privilege” to spearhead the class for the last six years.

Sophomore Kevin Christensen took top honors by winning the gold medal for the state in diesel equipment technology, and will be moving onto the national competition in Louisville, Kentucky at the end of June. Christensen took home a $29,000 scholarship to UTI Auto Tech Institute as well.

Christensen’s dedication, competitiveness, and levelheadedness make him well suited for the pressures of competition. “He’s just super level. He’ll tell you ‘I want to do this, I’m willing to train, and I’m willing to work hard. Let’s go,” explained Wheeler. “It’s the kind of passion that will get you through regardless.”

Meanwhile, senior students Alex Daberdaku – whose dad runs Luigi’s Deli in downtown Martinez– and Elizabeth Doty took fourth and third place and a $3,000 scholarship respectively in the SkillsUSA automotive championships.
Automotive Technology Instructor Brian Wheeler (second from left), Elizabeth Doty and Alex Daberdaku at the SkillsUSA?competition. (Courtesy of Alhambra High School)

Automotive Technology Instructor Brian Wheeler (second from left), Elizabeth Doty and Alex Daberdaku at the SkillsUSA?competition. (Courtesy of Alhambra High School)

The two talented students are no strangers to success. Earlier this year the two seniors competed as a team for the Top Tech Challenge at the UTI, taking home $10,000 scholarships each and winning $8,000 in tools for the school’s auto workshop.

And just prior to the SkillsUSA event, the students went head to head with a team of community college students, defeating them in a diagnostics competition sponsored by numerous shop owners known nationwide.

Wheeler calls Alex a “car guy through and through.” He says his competitiveness is what helped pushed them over to just barely win at UTI.

A big reason the school’s program was recertified by the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation – which certifies more than 400 programs across the nation – is thanks to Elizabeth, according to Wheeler.

“They’re both exceptional students,” Wheeler proclaimed.

A recurring theme of Wheeler’s class is furthering knowledge on your own time. He admits himself that with the amount of different career technical fields he teaches, he can’t be an expert in all of them. Wheeler on his own time is seeking his Masters at Touro University in Educational Technology.

He challenges students to be resourceful, to seek information on their own alongside him, and to bring it back to the class. And he subsequently does his part by seeking out people in the community to help the students learn. He tells them “the most valuable thing you’re going to learn, is to learn how to learn.”It’s that kind of drive of constant improvement that has pushed the program forward. Wheeler lamented that in the past, the furthest the class could get was eighth place in regionals. “Slowly but surely I figured out the competition and it changed what I taught, how I taught, and it really drove my instruction,” he said of how they used the competition to measure their direction towards an effective program.

“I figured if these guys know this stuff then my guys should know this stuff,” Wheeler explained.

He says that’s one of the big benefits of having a sophomore student like Christensen. He’ll be able to compete at a high level this year and bring that knowledge back to the classroom.

Both Elizabeth and Alex gained skills on their own time as well, interning at BMW and Mitsubishi respectively during the summer. It gave them the experience to pull off a narrow win during a tire rotation tie-breaker competition at UTI that Wheeler described as nail biting and surprisingly exciting.

Wheeler knew that thanks to their internships, Elizabeth and Alex had the contest in the bag. The duo had a significant lead over the other team, but due to the slow speed of the lift in comparison to the other team’s, the lead was negated.

“Alex’s arm was like the Six Million Dollar Man,” recalled Wheeler, of Alex torqueing the wheels at the last second. The two barely won the competition by two or three seconds to a chorus of audience applause.

“I was so proud. I’ve never seen a win like that,” expressed Wheeler with pride.

We would like to thank Martinez News-Gazette for reprint permission.

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