LUMBERTON — Local high school students got a glimpse Monday at a STEM pathway that leads to the automotive industry.
“Seventy percent of the projected fastest-growing occupations over the next six years are in STEM fields,” Chris Bitzenhofer, Universal Technical Institute’s admissions representative for Eastern North Carolina, told the students.
STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
Twenty-five students enrolled in automotive or welding courses at the Robeson County Career Center learned Monday morning about a program to jump-start a career in an industry in which salaries start at $15 an hour. The afternoon presentations drew 40 students, some of whom were in the Career Center’s construction courses.
The program that leads to jobs in the automotive industry is offered by UTI and can be completed in less than two years, Bitzenhofer said. The institute also offers NASCAR technician training.
Automotive technicians are in high demand, with about 1.2 million technician jobs projected in 2026, Bitzenhofer said.
“If you want to be a carpenter, a plumber or a cook, you need STEM,” said Mario Pennycooke, Universal Technical Institute local admissions marketing manager. “You do need to know STEM to work on these types of vehicles.”
Understanding the math involved with performance racing vehicles is essential to repairing them, he said.
“By understanding that math, you can understand how these engines make power,” he said.
Students also must have the right tools to do the job, Pennycooke said.
He used an automotive diagnostic scan tool to demonstrate how circuits in a vehicle affect its performance. The tool is used by mechanics to diagnose problems in vehicles’ computer systems.
“You can’t do that if you don’t have this scan tool,” Pennycooke said.
Lumberton High School senior Nate Cribb said the scan tool demonstration caught his interest. He is enrolled in the Career Center’s automotive course, and said he is considering attending UTI after graduation.
“I’m thinking about going,” Cribb said. “It’s a good program from what I’ve seen.”
The presentation also made an impression on Ashley Treviño, a senior at St. Pauls High School. Treviño, who is enrolled in the Career Center’s welding course, said she is interested in learning more about the automotive industry.
“I want to get a diploma in welding, but I would be interested in welding in cars,” she said.
Students who complete one automotive class at the Career Center are eligible for a 10% discount at UTI, Bitzenhofer said. The courses offered by the Career Center are certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, which makes students eligible for the discount.
Automotive instructor Chris Byrd said the presentation helped students look ahead and prepare for success after graduation. Byrd also schedules presentations from Caterpillar, the Lincoln Technical Institute, and the School of Automotive Machinists & Technology.
“Basically it shows them what is out there for them after high school,” he said.
The center also gives automotive students the ability to earn an Auto Maintenance and Light Repair Certification upon completion of five semesters of study, Byrd said.
“I actually came through this program,” said Ronald Dial, who teaches welding at the Career Center. “Had it not been for this program I would’ve never found welding.”
After working as a welding instructor at Robeson Community College for about 10 years, Dial found himself back at the center.
“To help these students find careers they’re passionate about, it means everything to me,” Dial said.
The Career Center, located at 1339 Hilly Branch Road in Lumberton, offers high school students across the county courses in carpentry, automotive service, plumbing, computer engineering, masonry and electrical. It also has a firefighter academy. For the current school year, 320 students are enrolled at the center.
Reach Jessica Horne at 910-416-5165 or via email at [email protected]