Sr. Cristian Gomez sat in the compact cab of a CAT 745C hauler, operating the complex hydraulic steering system that the 10’Hx20’L machine has to offer; the machine was driven across the CTC parking lot at a sluggish pace due to its sheer size and weight. After having to climb a steel ladder to enter the machine, and after being told that a similar model machine can crack the cement with its bucket, Gomez was quite reluctant, yet in awe. A CAT 745C is worth $670,000 and is used primarily in quarries to transport minerals; these machines are used by excavating companies throughout the world. The reasoning behind Gomez driving such an exquisite piece of machinery is that he plans to get into the Diesel Mechanic field post-high school and could surely utilize this operator experience given in class. From skills testing, complex projects, guest speakers, and outstanding attendance, there are many reasons why the Diesel and Heavy Equipment class at the Careerline Tech Center is more interesting in comparison to general classes at WO.
The skills tests that are part of the Diesel and Heavy Equipment class are a large reason why this class is so interestingly complex and fun. There are the same number of stations set up in the shop as there are students. Each student starts at a station, is given 5 minutes to complete the skill-related task, and is then required to move onto the next station once the teacher calls “rotate.” All stations differ but all relate to the material being learned in class. These stations range from cutting metal with an Oxy-Acetylene torch, tapping out a certain sized hole (threading a drilled hole), measuring electrical circuits with different meters, to finding information in manuals. From my own experiences, I have never had testing like I have in the Diesel and Heavy Equipment class. Classes at West Ottawa High School mainly consist of tests that are printed on paper, given to the students, turned in, and then graded. These assessments may test one’s skills adequately, but putting all of one’s knowledge into a pencil isn’t the best method to comprehend one’s understanding of the class material. Putting one’s nose to the grindstone, being able to use hands, and being able to physically see the answers when procedures are done properly is an excellent way to have one learn. Personally, I would take a skills test at Tech Center over a standard test given at WO any day.
Complex projects are also a big part of the Diesel and Heavy Equipment class. In the first year that focuses more towards fundamental diesel engine repair skills, the students get to learn every part of the engine they are given, they get to disassemble the engine until only the block is left, measure the engine parts and their clearances, and then (more interestingly) they get to fully re-assemble the engines and run them. I can’t name one other class at the Careerline Tech Center, or at WO, that allows a student to get the knowledge that they do in the class. The experience of running an engine that is fully re-assembled by a student and their 2 group-mates is an experience that is unmatched.
Guest speakers are very common in the Diesel and Heavy Equipment class. The first year Instructor, Kevin Wiersma, commonly requests that his students come back one day and talk to the class about their post-high school experiences. “We try to expose our students to our industry and the opportunities that our industry provides by organizing field trips, guest speakers, and work-based learning experiences,” Wiersma said. From this request of the first year instructor, many students follow through and come to the class throughout either the AM or PM sessions. If a class held little importance to alumni of the program, it is believable that they would not plan on returning. Personally, I can’t recall any other of the classes that I have gone through having guest speakers that relate to a specific industry related to the class. Showing students that they have options outside of school in a career is very beneficial. “It is exciting to see the demand that these companies have for employees that have the skills that our students are learning. This demand is reflected in the scholarship opportunities that our students have as well as the earning potential that our industry provides for students that have not only the technical skills needed to succeed but also fundamental work skills,” Second-year Instructor, Jason Alberda said.
The attendance that the Diesel and Heavy equipment has is phenomenal. “Most students step up their performance to meet these expectations of professional behavior and performance and understand the importance of being in class daily. They know that when they are gone they will miss valuable information that will help them in this class but most importantly in their life after school. The attendance of our students is often outstanding and every year, we have many students who never miss a required day of class during their junior and senior years,” Alberda said. With so many students striving to be in class and striving to learn, it is easily said that this is a class that students see great value in going to. On the contrary, when speaking of other classes at WO, sometimes I’d much rather be wandering the halls or at CTC; interest is what makes a class bearable and the CTC is very successful at engaging their students. The Diesel and Heavy Equipment class attracts the students with interesting projects, fun teaching, and great lab time; I love showing up every single day.