Delgado A-Z: Motor Vehicle Technology

by: Hilton Guidry
By the 1920s the price of a Ford Model T was an affordable $260. It was also one of the first automobiles to be mass produced with interchangeable parts. The love affair between Americans and the automobile industry was well under way. But it wasn’t until 1945 when Charles B. Cousley organized the automotive mechanic training program. At first, only night classes were available on campus. Most of the students were apprentices and the classes were not very hands on. By 1947 a limited number of students (mostly veterans returning from WWII) were taking classes during the day but the school still did not have the proper funds to purchase suitable equipment and tools needed for the program.

Ford Model T
In 1954 Delgado purchased approximately $10,000 of equipment at half-price from an automotive school that had recently closed. Two years later, Delgado signed industrial contracts with GM, Chrysler and Ford, and the companies donated instructional materials and automobile parts to help the program. As the school continued to grow in the 1960s, the relationship between the school and major American automotive companies grew stronger and in 1968 Ford donated additional auto equipment to help maintain the program. 
Automotive school students in the 1950s
Just as they had after WWII, many Vietnam veterans took advantage of the GI Bill and enrolled in the automotive program in the 1970s. By the early 1980s the industry started to change. Cars were not just engines, transmissions, tires and other moving parts. Computers were now an important part of every automobile and students had to learn how to run diagnostics test before they could repair a car. Former department chair Joe Cruthirds and other members of the department went to Detroit and Dearborn, Michigan for training at the corporate headquarters of GM and Ford to keep up with the ever changing technology. Also, Cruthirds said local dealerships began sending their technicians to Delgado for training when the manufacturers started closing training facilities in the area. “We started to build good relationships with the local dealers. So we created training programs for their technicians,” said Cruthirds.

Students preparing a car for paint and body work in the 1970s
According to Joe Cruthirds, who started teaching at Delgado in 1977, enrollment was high and new facilities were needed. The school held automotive classes in both Building 8 (where horticulture is now located) and in the back of building 1 (where the fitness center is now located). In the 1980s under President Harry Boyer new facilities were being built and renovated around campus. It was around this time the motor vehicle technology program really started to develop. Building 40 was constructed in the early 80s as the main auto shop to replace the other locations on campus. Building 41 was built a few years later to house the regional GM Training Center for dealership employees to get continuing education. In the early 90s, Delgado gained two auto programs, GM ASEP and Ford ASSET. Both programs were designed for Delgado students, some of whom would eventually work for a GM or Ford dealership. These programs were eventually moved into Building 39.

Automotive shop before the current facilitates were built
The Vocational Technical Complex contains Building 39, 40 & 41where the motor vehicle technology program is located
Automotive Lab & Machine Shop
After teaching at Delgado for over 30 years, Cruthirds decided to retire. Cruthirds had become the department chair and was looking for a replacement. He turned to one of his former students and current instructors Don Davenport. “Like most of the faculty here in the department, I was a graduate of Delgado. I applied my trade for about 30 years before I came back to Delgado. But in the meantime I was an adjunct teaching at night and working during the day. Joe started twisting my arm around 2004 to work here full time, since then, I’ve never looked back,” said Davenport.

Students working in the body shop
Continuing Education Class with mechanics from local dealerships
“When I was a student here, you could probably get 80% of all the knowledge you need to fix cars by attending classes,” said Davenport.  “Now students really need to use their critical thinking skills to solve problems. There’s been such advancement in technology; I can’t tell you where we will be in five years from now, it’s so rapidly changing.” To keep up with technology, Delgado will be offering an Advanced Automotive Technology course next year and is in the process of developing a high performance training program so students can work on automotive racing cars.

Wheel balancing station in the automotive department
Female student working in the auto painting class
The Motor Vehicle Technology department currently has 300 students enrolled in classes. A handful of the students are female and according to Davenport, they can hold their own against fellow male classmates. “They put some of the guys to shame; a guy will come in here all macho claiming to know everything about cars and try to bluff their way through the courses. A woman will come in not knowing a whole lot, but they are ready to learn.” Most of the students who graduate will work for a dealership or a chain type shop like Firestone, while others will get into automotive body work. The program also participates in the ASEP GM challenge where they compete against other programs in the region (an automotive quiz bowl, but more hands on) and regularly attends World of Wheels trade shows.

Don Davenport and students at the World of Wheels show
Rebecca Lindell (left) earned AkzoNobel’s “The Most Influential Women of the Collision Industry” scholarship. Brandi Gray (right) received a tool grant from Craftsman
Tracy Nguyen also received a tool grant from Craftsman
As Davenport explains, students need to be more technically inclined now more than ever to compete in the automotive repair industry. With hybrid cars that run on electricity and hydrogen becoming more popular in the future, students need to keep up or as Davenport said, “Pick up a hammer and go do something else, because if you are not sharp and bright, you don’t have a future in this industry.” From a car that looked like a like a horseless carriage in the early 1900s, to the high performance vehicles that will become the cars of the future, Delgado students will keep motoring along with this ever evolving industry.

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