From Classroom to Career: Ulster BOCES Automotive Technology Program Fuels Graduate’s Future

From Classroom to Career: Ulster BOCES Automotive Technology Program Fuels Graduate’s Future

Ulster BOCES means different things to different people. According to automotive technician Leonard “Lenny” Joyce, Ulster BOCES paved the road to his future in the automotive technology industry. 

Lenny’s childhood passion for cars, which was fueled by the Fast and Furious movie series, continued into adolescence and he knew that his love of automobiles would always be a part of his life. As an underclassman at Highland High School in 2020, he was working at a fast food chain, experiencing complacency and feeling unfulfilled and uncertain about his future. Then, he discovered and enrolled in the Automotive Technology program at Ulster BOCES as a junior, which allowed him to pursue his passion and learn valuable life skills. “I had wanted to go to Ulster BOCES to get the knowledge I needed to repair my own car, but then once I gained that knowledge, I then wanted to get a job in the field,” he said.

The program is designed for students, or “young professionals” as they are called at Ulster BOCES, who have little or no knowledge or experience in the automotive field, but who are eager to learn. The course is wide-ranging, covering safety, automotive tools and fasteners, seals, and bearings, along with basic engine design, construction, and principles.

Trade instruction is concentrated in four major areas: steering and suspension, brakes, electrical and electronic, and engine performance. The program boasts certification by the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation (NATEF) and provides an excellent foundation for young professionals to either attend automotive college or directly enter the automotive industry. The Ulster BOCES program also participates in the Automotive Youth Educational System (AYES) program, a dynamic partnership among participating automotive manufacturers, local dealers, and selected local high schools/career and technical schools.

However, the lessons taught in the Ulster BOCES program go way beyond the technical trade-specific skills and also instill key employability skills, such as communication, flexibility, teamwork, resiliency, innovation, and organization, to name a few. One of the ways these invaluable skills are taught is through workplace learning experiences and the Capstone Internship program, which pairs young professionals to work with industry partners two to three days a week, often in paid positions.

Lenny’s Automotive Technology instructor at Ulster BOCES, Edwin Luther, said that he recognized Lenny’s skill set and laudable work ethic and encouraged him to undertake a Capstone Internship program with Cadillac Parts and Restoration in Poughkeepsie. This experience provided Lenny the opportunity to work on cars, replace fuel pumps, change tires, detail vehicles, and ship parts while also learning the finer nuances of the trade. “He was learning many new things there,” said Luther, adding that he saw Lenny mature with the additional responsibilities. 

“Teachers can provide students with all the conceptual knowledge there is, but a work-based experience puts that conceptual knowledge into context in a way that’s not possible in the classroom,” explained Peter Harris, Assistant Superintendent for Career Pathways Programs. “As students gain more conceptual knowledge and skills, they have more opportunities to perform work relevant to the industry they are interested in joining, which leads to more understanding and self-reflection. Students are learning skills that are actually relevant to the workforce.”

When Lenny graduated in 2023, he had a job waiting for him at Cadillac Parts and Restoration. He continues to work there while studying Business at Dutchess Community College with a major goal in mind: he plans to own a mechanic shop one day. 

Lenny said that his education in the Ulster BOCES classroom gave him the “nuts and bolts” he needed to pursue and succeed in a career he loves. “For me, it’s all about the experience I got there. It was all hands-on experience, and nothing beats that.” 

Lenny credits Luther for giving him a boost into the fast lane. “Mr. Luther pushed me to always try my best, pointing out the stuff I did wrong, so I would be able to learn from it and grow as a better young professional,” he said.

Cadillac Parts and Restoration second-generation owner and shop manager Frank Nicodemus is pleased to have Lenny on his team. “Lenny has been with us for seven months now,” he said. “We have watched him gain valuable skills throughout the time he spent in the BOCES Auto Tech program, and the internship with us really fast-tracked that. What we do is very specialized, and Lenny has been well-prepared to do it. He has learned skills that will take him far either with us or elsewhere in this field.”

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