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It’s electrifying!: VVC Auto Dept. prepared for the future

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Photo by Fabian Guillen

Story by Charity Lindsey

Electrification of the car industry is imminent and Victor Valley College is “at the forefront of this,” according to Automotive/Industrial Technologies faculty member Steven Coultas.

With carmakers around the world committing themselves to offering electric cars in the near future, educational programs must be able to produce a workforce skilled in alternative propulsion vehicles.

Luckily, VVC is a year ahead of most schools in offering specialized curriculum to prepare students for this wave of change.

“We have increased the rigor of our program by about 25 percent (in light of the industry changing rapidly),” Coultas said.

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VVC students can now look at upcoming classes that will allow them to earn an Alternative Vehicle Propulsion Certificate/Degree. Those interested should first take the requirement of AUTO-50, “Intro to Automotive Tech,” which is offered in Winter and Spring 2020.

Once they’ve taken AUTO-50, the first cohort of Alternative Vehicle students will enroll in AUTO-89.3, “Intro to Hybrid, Electric, and Alternative Vehicle Tech,” which is offered in Spring 2020.

Cameron Hill, a 22-year-old VVC automotive student who will be enrolling in alternative vehicles courses, said he is looking forward to learning something new.

“Besides the tires, (electric cars) are a whole new vehicle,” Hill said. “I couldn’t tell you what we’re going to be learning, but I know I’m excited.”Hill said he never wanted to go to school until he came to the VVC auto department.

“Now I go to class give days a week and have a smile on my face the whole time,” Hill said. “This industry is always going to be growing, and it makes it fun because there’s so much going on.”

The automotive department’s development of new curriculum has been supported by the Strong Workforce Program, which California Community Colleges established in 2016 to drive more students into programs which lead to high-demand, high-wage jobs. VVC belongs to the Inland Empire/Desert Regional Consortium, partnering with other nearby community colleges to provide the region with programs that contribute to economic prosperity.

Recent funding has allowed the automotive department to purchase new equipment, including new hybrid and electric vehicles. The department has four primary “alternative” vehicles for students to learn with: a 2016 Toyota Prius Prime plug-in hybrid, a 2016 Honda Accord hybrid, an electric 2016 Chevrolet Bolt, and an electric 2015 Fiat 500.

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VVC also purchased a Switch Lab kit from Switch Vehicles, Inc., allowing students to build fully-functional electric cars from start to finish.

Coultas said VVC is “at the forefront” of the push toward alternative cars, seeing as California is one of the world’s largest economies and leads the country in sales of hybrid and electric vehicles.

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“Our technology is driven by the computer industry because the more computer technology they have available, the more technology we can utilize on an automobile — so you have to know both,” Coultas said. “As we transition into electric propulsion, the newest technology we’re going to have is automation, which is autonomous, self-driving vehicles. So we’re starting to build curriculum for that right now.”

The Alternative Vehicle Propulsion Certificate is one of the 11 total automotive certificates now offered at VVC, which all require the same foundational courses, making it easy for students to work toward multiple certificates at once. For more information, please contact Steven Coultas at steven.coultas@vvc.edu.

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VVC automotive grant extended to local high schools

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Three years ago, the Victor Valley College Automotive Technology Department obtained a clean fuels grant that helped create new and improved curriculum.

The California Energy Commission / Advanced Transportation and Renewable Energy grant also supported increased professional development and the purchase of state-of-the-art classroom equipment.

As a recent extension of the award, VVC partnered with Victor Valley Union High School District to channel funding from the energy commission to developing pilot training programs at two local high schools.

Adelanto and Victor Valley high schools were two of just eight schools in the state to be awarded. VVC officials joined representatives from the energy commission, Strong Workforce Transportation Sector, and VVUHSD at an award presentation last Wednesday.

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“It was a really cool day,” said VVC Automotive/Industrial Technologies faculty member Steve Coultas. “It reinforces the linkages between us — there will be a much clearer, better transitional pathway from their propulsion programs to ours.”

Both high schools now have “Switch Lab” kits from Switch Vehicles, Inc., allowing students to build fully-functional electric cars from start to finish.

“Building an electric car is an experience I would have never thought I’d be a part of during high school,” Adelanto student Jayden White said to the crowd during the award presentation. “This project has been an amazing experience and it is something I will always remember.”

Students in EV

In October, Coultas attended a Switch Labs training workshop along with auto instructors from the awarded high schools, Robert Carlos from Victor Valley and Dave Mendoza from Adelanto.

“The automotive industry is evolving, and so are our automotive programs,” VVUHSD Career Technology Education Coordinator Dr. McKenzie Tarango said. “We are working with VVC to train a new generation of electric car technicians to meet the needs of the industry while providing students exposure to the high-wage careers of today and tomorrow.”   

While the high schools received vehicle kits with direct current (DC) propulsion, VVC’s auto program ordered a kit with alternating current (AC) propulsion thanks to funding from the Strong Workforce Program.

Arriving in time for a class in the Spring 2020 semester, it will compliment and advance what students coming out of the local high school programs have already learned.

“We have increased the rigor of our program by about 25 percent (in light of the industry changing rapidly),” Coultas said. “Thankfully, because of the grant funding, we’re a year ahead of other schools.”