Valley teens test drive auto tech careers at UTI

Eliseo Garcia, left, a 16-year-old Westwood High School student, and 17-year-old Preston Sandoval, of Metro Tech High School, work on a car during UTI’s Summer Ignite program. (Photo courtesy UTI)

By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

While some Phoenix-area teens were getting a tan this summer, 16 local high school students got a jumpstart on a career.

The soon-to-be high school seniors participated in the inaugural Summer Ignite program at Universal Technical Institute (UTI) in Avondale. The free program gave the students a taste of what attending UTI and – ultimately – working as an auto technician is all about.

Broken into two three-week courses, the program introduced students to the basics of working on engines and various aspects of the undercar, including alignment. Ignite concluded recently with testing. Those who passed will receive a discount on their tuition if they decide to enroll in UTI after graduation.

Participants like 17-year-old Wesley Bollinger said they already loved automobiles. Bollinger grew up working on classic cars with his father. After completing the UTI program this summer, he’s certain that he plans to study further.

“It’s a good field to go into because the jobs are here,” said Bollinger, who attends Copper Canyon High School in Glendale. “I thought about coming (to UTI) before. Now, I really want to come here.”

Jobs are plentiful in the transportation sector. Nationwide, the federal government projects there will be more than 1.2 million technician jobs in the transportation industry by 2024. That means an estimated 37,000 new openings for technicians are created every year.

“These are great jobs that require a skill, but not necessarily a four-year college degree,” said Michael Romano, president of UTI-Avondale.

“Our goal with the Summer Ignite program was to connect with high school students and open their eyes – and the eyes of their parents – to the career opportunities available across this growing field.”

Preston Sandoval, 17, said he hasn’t always enjoyed high school, but the Laveen teenager thinks he found his place this summer among fellow problem-solvers and hands-on learners at UTI. He’s excited to pursue a career as an auto technician.

“You’re doing something you love, and you’re doing it every single day,” Sandoval said.

Consider it a summer well-spent for Yomar Gamino, 16.

“I’m getting a head-start on my career,” said Gamino, a Tolleson High School senior. “We did sacrifice our summer, but it was well worth it.”

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