Couple Finds Path to Success with Automotive Program

Ulster BOCES means different things to different people. For Molly Sue Morningstar and Kyle Tokle, Ulster BOCES set them on a path leading to rewarding positions in the automotive industry, as well as finding each other. Today, along with being employed at Prestige Toyota in Kingston, the two are also engaged and are parents of a young son.

In 2010 as a sophomore at Saugerties High School, Molly's dislike of the traditional high school curriculum influenced her decision to attend the Ulster BOCES High School Visitation Day. She chose to explore the Culinary Arts program during the tour. "I really expected to do Culinary, but I had to pick two classes to visit, so I also picked Auto [Automotive Technology], and when I walked in and saw the shop, I went home and said, 'I don't want to do Culinary, I want to work on cars.'"

Signing up for the program was a good fit for her. "I was distant and I didn't really care [about school work] until I got to BOCES. That's what kept me interested in school; it was getting to do something with my hands," she explains. "I learned better that way because I had a hard time sitting and reading from a book."

Molly says the teachers at the Career & Technical Center focus on student interests and incorporate trade topics into their literacy, math, and science assignments. "I was decent at math until you brought letters into the equations. TCI [Technical Communications Instruction curriculum] taught me that you can learn the stuff you'll actually use in a way that it applies to your life," says Molly. "I don't think I would have graduated high school without it."

Molly was committed to pursuing an education in a non-traditional career path and debunking the myth that women belong in "pink collar" jobs. "People would say my stature was too small, but my parents told me to set my mind to it," says Molly.

Cultural perceptions are one of the factors contributing to the automotive repair sector remaining a male-dominated industry. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates as of 2010 only 1.6 percent of automotive service technicians and mechanics were women. Molly was determined to be among those women.

Three years earlier, Kyle had also been frustrated with his classes. "I went to school, and I hated it. I felt that knowing about the Mayans and the Aztecs wasn't going to get me anywhere," remembers the Rondout Valley High School graduate. Family friend and Ulster BOCES Automotive Technology instructor Jamie Lucks, recommended Kyle visit the Career & Technical Center. Kyle thought trade school sounded promising. "I was always interested in cars and had a natural instinct to work with my hands," he recalls.

Kyle says the trade-related subjects used at the Career & Technical Center helped him overcome his dislike of the three "Rs"—reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic, and he even mastered them, thanks to his love of cars being infused into the curriculum. He credits his former Ulster BOCES English teacher, Michael Baxter, with helping him conquer what he thought was an insurmountable assignment—a composition about American automotive history. "Mr. Baxter taught me how to write an essay correctly. It took 12 years, but he knew how to break it down," jokes Kyle.

After graduating, both Molly and Kyle went on to pursue post secondary school training. Molly attended Columbia Greene Community College and received her Automotive Technology Certification, and Kyle attended the Universal Technical Institute in Boston and earned his Automotive Technology Certification and Ford Repair Technician status. He also recently became a certified Master Toyota Technician. Molly's automotive specialty area has recently shifted. After working as a technician for two and a half years at Prestige, she is now a tire specialist and service adviser there.

While the Ulster BOCES Automotive Technology program was only partially responsible for bringing the two together, Molly and Kyle recommend it to any student who has an interest in working in the field. "I would say to do it, put in the effort 100 percent, and listen to Mr. Lucks. He's smart and patient. It's refreshing to have a teacher like that," says Molly, adding that not only did the program bring her and Kyle together, but it also had other rewards. "We're 22 and 26 years old and we have a house and a baby!"