Laura Salas, 28, graduated from Contra Costa College's automotive collision repair technology department, located in San Pablo, CA, in 2010.
Six years later, she was named the Co-Chair of the Automotive Services department, a position her predecessor, Peter Lock, held for 36 years.
Q: What do you think about the job after two full years at the helm?
A: I've been lucky because Peter Lock has helped me every step of the way. He retired, but then he came back and he has been amazing. He teaches three days a week covering all of the advanced courses. I think I will eventually kick him out at some point (laughs). Mr. Lock taught me a lot about life and helped me become a better person, and he also gave me the knowledge I needed to do this job. The biggest challenge for me has been learning the academic end of things. I've had to learn a lot about the administrative aspect of this job and how to work effectively within the system. The collision side of things and communicating the curriculum comes to me easily because I've loved it for so long, and I'm confident doing that. But there are a lot of other things that go along with teaching at a junior college involving prioritizing duties and running the entire department.
I'm in charge of overseeing the entire faculty in the automotive department, which consists of two full-time instructors and a pool of four part-time teachers. We are never all in the same building at any time, so communicating amongst the faculty is something that has to be carefully coordinated. I am also responsible for budgeting the department, which is a big part of being the chair and a new experience for me.
Q: What are some of the major changes you've been working on since taking on the position?
A: On the collision side, we offer eight classes currently, and we are in the process of revising our curriculum. We have been receiving a lot of valuable feedback from our Advisory Committee, [which] consists of people from the industry, and we're using that as we proceed. We want our classes to be more relevant to what is happening in the collision industry today. As you know, this industry has changed dramatically within the last five years.