A couple of automotive classes at Lincoln High School sparked Jacob Gardner’s interest in how cars work. So, a decade ago, he headed to a school in Phoenix when he graduated and became a diesel mechanic.

Now he’s back in Lincoln, piquing high school students’ interest in the automotive industry in a renovated space at Northeast High School that’s part of a new district automotive career program.

Renovations of Northeast’s automotive and welding areas — a nearly two-year process — are finished, as are similar renovations at Lincoln High.

The two schools now offer beginning and advanced auto- and small-mechanics classes, including four advanced dual-credit classes with Southeast Community College, that are open to all Lincoln Public Schools students. LPS plans to add additional dual-credit courses next year.

The two high schools have always had the largest automotive and welding programs in the district.

Some high schools, like Lincoln East, offer basic automotive courses, while others have none. Welding is similar, with some schools offering welding instruction as part of other courses but not as standalone classes.

But now, with a more than $1.1 million renovation of welding and automotive spaces at Northeast and Lincoln High, district officials hope the automotive programs will help fill a need in the community.

Lincoln Northeast renovations

Northeast sophomore Josh Schutt (right), heats a piece of metal with an oxy-acetylene torch Friday during welding and machine tool class. A $1.1 million renovation at Northeast and Lincoln High was coupled with new equipment for students, much of it donated.

“What we’re hearing from Lincoln is that there’s an extreme need for auto technicians,” said Cynthia Baum, LPS curriculum specialist in career and technical education.

This semester, 235 students are enrolled in automotive classes at the two schools, Baum said, and she hopes to foster internship opportunities for those students who start with the beginning courses and work their way through the dual-credit courses.

Of those students, 61 are from Lincoln High and 105 from Northeast. The remainder come to the two schools from other high schools. Nine of the students are female.

Gardner said he gets students who just want to learn the basics of car mechanics and maintenance in the beginning courses, but the upper-level classes are primarily students who are considering it as a career.

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The program acts as a sort of satellite to The Career Academy, although transportation to Lincoln High and Northeast is not provided like it is to The Career Academy. 

The welding programs also offer beginning and advanced classes, similar to those offered at The Career Academy, although they do not currently offer dual-credit. Bob Freese, the Northeast department chair, said they hope to be able to do so next year.

Welding is another skill in great demand in Lincoln, and Career Academy Director Dan Hohensee said he doesn’t see the programs at Lincoln High and Northeast as competing with the Career Academy pathway.

At the high schools, both the curriculum and the equipment are new. Some equipment was donated by local businesses, replacing out-of-date equipment that was old when Gardner was in school.

The renovations of the automotive and welding spaces at both schools was part of the work done with $14.5 million in savings from the 2014 bond issue, said Scott Wieskamp, operations director for the district.

At Northeast, a wall was removed between the automotive area and the welding and manufacturing labs, Freese said. That expanded the automotive shop and gave them the opportunity to remodel the welding areas.

The welding space has new welders, new welding booths, a new welding cutting tool, a new ventilation system and a new teacher with 45 students, Freese said.

The automotive shops at Lincoln High and Northeast have new and additional lifts, as well as a host of new equipment, including tire machines and balancers, hand tools, cabinets and snap-on tools. The area at Northeast is now air-conditioned, Freese said.

“Both these programs will grow, and both those teachers are young teachers that hopefully stay around and work with kids, because there’s lots of opportunity in these areas,” Freese said.

Gardner worked in the automotive industry for a number of years in Lincoln, in all areas of the service department as well as sales. 

His mom was a teacher, and the idea of teaching intrigued him. So he applied at LPS.

“Probably my favorite aspect was service adviser, explaining to people why we recommend (the work),” he said. “I figured if I could help kids achieve what their goals are that would be more satisfying than trying to sell cars to people.”

Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSreist.


Education reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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