By Alex Wilson, February 11, 2021
Alexander Richards, right, associate professor of automotive technology management
at the University of Central Missouri, conducts a demonstration using a Chevrolet
Volt Extended Range Electric Vehicle, which was obtained by UCM through a U.S. Department
of Energy grant. Standing beside Richards is Grant Raterman, a student in the Automotive
Technology Management program.
WARRENSBURG, MO – For more than 50 years, the University of Central Missouri has offered the Automotive Technology Management (ATM) program. The program, geared to passionate and hardworking hands-on learners looking for corporate automotive careers, sets a standard for higher education in the automotive field.
The Automotive Technology Management program is divided into three concentrations, Area One: Automotive Technology; Area Two: Design Technology; Area Three: Service Management. Area One emphasizes technical skills, Area Two focuses on development of skills typically used in the applied service industry, and Area Three primarily emphasizes management skills needed for the corporate and business world. Although students are presented with these three options, every student seeking an automotive technology major will learn both essential and specialized information regarding the automotive industry as a whole.
Graduates of the program can expect success, with many alumni working with automotive industry leaders such as Allison Transmission, Cummins, Ford, General Motors, Chrysler, Tesla and many other successful companies. Career paths students encounter in automotive-related industries include fields such as service engineering, product improvement, management, engineering technician work, parts and warranty divisions and even positions in the insurance industry.
“The Automotive Technology bachelor’s degree I earned from UCM has been instrumental in teaching me the knowledge and skills needed to be a leader in the automotive industry,” said Matt Dumas, Chevrolet (General Motors) manager of aftersales. He leads a team which serves 86 dealers across four states.
He added that his UCM education also served him well in positions that included serving as ACDelco market area manager, Chevrolet district manager of aftersales, Buick and GMC district sales and service manager, Maritz process facilitator, ACDelco product specialist, LA Technical College automotive instructor, and Pepboys assistant service manager.
“Without my UCM ATM degree, I would not have qualified for several of these opportunities,” Dumas said.
The Automotive Technology program is housed within the Gaines Technology Building, and utilizes about one-third of the 66,000-square-foot facility, located on the east side of campus. Students have access to the same tools and equipment they can expect to find outside of class in garages, workshops and factories. Students learn how to troubleshoot real automotive issues on vehicles brought in by program students and faculty. Automotive Technology students have access to more than just a classroom environment, they have the opportunity to develop their skills by actively practicing them. A student in the program, Grey Boyer, shared his experience learning in a hands-on environment.
“It’s interesting to see all different types of perspectives mesh together, especially when you have the academic part of the degree and the automotive part of the degree mesh in interesting ways,” Boyer said.
“We learn a lot of different ways to deconstruct a problem; how the different systems of the automotive body work with one another, almost like how the human body works with each system communicating with one another.”
The Automotive Technology Management program offers a Bachelor of Science degree, one of less than 20 being offered by institutions nationwide, that is accessible for students and transferable from various other institutions. A minor in Business Administration also can be earned without any additional coursework. Students leaving the program have been hired with high starting-salaries, many around $60,000 annually, which can build up to annual salaries as high as $100,000. The automotive industry is an expansive industry that is actively hiring, with special interest in UCM Automotive Technology Management students; the automotive industry is in need of employees who have strong leadership skills as well as specialized workers within the industry.
“A couple of years ago we, the four-year automotive technology teachers, had meetings in Detroit at the Ford, GM and Chrysler headquarters,” recalled UCM Professor of Automotive Technology Scott Wilson. “One of the things that all three companies told us was that within the next five to 10 years, they are going to lose up to 50% of their technical management people because of retirement. And of course, they looked right at us automotive teachers and asked, ‘What are you going to do about it?’ We are working on that alongside the help of the manufacturers recruiting students for the workplace.”
UCM’s program has attained full accreditation from both the Association of Technology, Management and Applied Engineering and certification by the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation. It is the nation’s only Bachelor of Science in Automotive Technology program to currently hold both credentials.
"The degree provided the technical understanding and foundation that I have built my career on. I didn't realize how unique my education was, until I began to compete in the corporate world,” said Lou Gilbert, managing director of product management and product planning for Allison Transmission. “The balance of a strong technical understanding, the ability to speak in public and learned common sense were differentiators for me."
The course curriculum is designed to accommodate the diversity of the automotive job market while also educating students about the future of the industry, concepts that future alumni are expected to encounter soon after they graduate.
“I want to be a mechanic but I also want to do creative work on cars such as full body and detail work. That is what brought me to this program because I wanted to bring in what I enjoy into my work,” junior Automotive Technology Management major Molly Baumhoff said. “I like the program; the teachers are all great teachers and are helpful and supportive.”
The Automotive Technology Management program stays current with the state of the automotive industry. For example, many students are actively learning about hybrid and electric vehicles, which will help students be more prepared to enter a growing technology industry. Students also learn about upcoming technologies they will encounter, such as autonomous vehicles and an increasing use of digital components in cars and trucks. The automotive industry, especially electric vehicle manufacturing, is seeking skilled personnel as it begins to experience growth. Between 2010 and 2020, the electric vehicle market share increased to 2% of the automobile sales in the U.S., with a peak of 358,000 EV’s sold in 2018. In addition to the other EV giants, there are over 15 electric vehicle (EV) startups. Electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles, and advanced electronic systems are the present and future of the automotive industry with many manufacturing leaders such as GM committing to making 100% of their vehicle offerings hybrid or full electric by 2025 and states such as California requiring all vehicles to be zero emission by 2035. The UCM Automotive Technology Management program prepares students for these industry breakthroughs while also strengthening students’ understanding of current core principles and foundations they need to know before entering the industry.
“It is very important to know, with hybrids, how each system is affected. It is important to know the engineering differences of hybrid vehicles,” said Alexander Richards, associate professor and program coordinator of Automotive Technology Management. “GM and Ford have both committed themselves to have 100% of their vehicle line-up to either be hybrid or EV. It’s not coming, it’s here. For programs like ours, where our graduates are going to work for manufacturers, that’s really important because they are not graduating for the year 2021, they are graduating for the year 2024 or 2025 because those vehicles are in the pre-production process now and there needs to be people who can do work on those vehicles.”
Upon graduating from the program, students will have a wide array of opportunities presented to them from emerging industry to high-paying career positions. An alumnus of the UCM Automotive Technology Management program, Brian Freeman, has found success in the electric vehicle industry for almost a decade. Freeman, now a service technician for Tesla, was ready to pursue and evolve his career upon graduating from the program.
“Its strength is that it is unique. If you are looking to pursue automotive you are going to see a lot of two-year schools, a lot of associate degrees and a lot of tech schools, and this (UCM program) is a little rare in the fact that this is a four-year school with a bachelor’s degree. In the end, you come out as a more well-rounded student and are probably better for it,” Freeman said.
Fellow alumnus Matt Smith, national service director of award-winning Kansas City electric vehicle company Orange EV, also shared fond memories of the program.
“I had an internship at International Navistar in Chicago, that was directly related to the university helping me obtain that position,” Smith said. “I would not have been able to work at Navistar by calling them up. They created an internship for me and that was because of the help of the professors and administration at UCM. I would absolutely recommend this program.”
A positive internship experience is common with many ATM graduates as students consistently develop relationships with manufacturers, dealerships and businesses across the country.
“The ATM degree that I received at UCM was pivotal with my success in the automotive industry. I completed an internship at two dealerships, and that coupled with the ATM degree, helped me land my first job at General Motors and eventually American Honda Motor Company,” alumnus Mike Wehmeir said. “UCM's ATM department staff has always ensured that the most up-to-date technology is taught, along with state-of-the-art equipment to train with. This prepared me for real world application. UCM offers a very strong automotive program that paved the way for my automotive career.”
Another UCM graduate, Kirk Smith, director of service for Chanje EV, has spent more than a decade in the electric vehicle field. He has benefited tremendously from opportunities made possible by UCM. “The ATM program gave me a rare place to follow my automotive passion, learn new technology, and provide for the opportunity to achieve a bachelor’s degree in my field of choice. The four-year degree makes a difference on a resume as well,” Smith said. The outcome for Smith has not only fed his passion but has given him the opportunity to travel the world and substantially provide for his family.