More than a mechanic

Written on 05/18/2024
Patrick Munsey

Valencia named Ivy Tech's Outstanding Student in Automotive Technology

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Juan Valencia was drawn to automotive repair after working on cars with his dad as a young man. When it came time to pursue a career, those days in the garage stayed with him. Last week, he graduated from Ivy Tech Community College with an Associate’s degree in Automotive Technology, but his impact on others during his schooling is an even greater accomplishment.

“I started working on cars with my dad back in middle school,” said Valencia. “I started holding just a flashlight and watching. Then, he started showing me how to do things, you know, checking brake pads, oil changes, rotors, just the basic maintenance stuff. That's when I started thinking maybe this is what I want to do.”

The Logansport High School graduate chose Ivy Tech because it was affordable, and the Logansport campus was close to home. He also had earned Ivy Tech credits through classes in high school, which gave him a head start on a degree.

But it was a visit to an Ivy Tech college fair at the Kokomo campus where Valencia learned about the Automotive Technician Education Pathway established through a partnership with Chariot Automotive Group.

“I was working at the college fair as an Ivy Tech student ambassador, and I came across Chariot,” said Valencia. “I got a little bit of information from them and thought maybe Chariot was the way to go.”

Ivy Tech’s CareerLink office got him connected to the program, and he enrolled. He was relieved that the work and education seemed to come naturally. He especially appreciated the experiential learning, splitting time between the classroom and the shop floor. And Chariot liked what they saw in Valencia. He has been employed by the automotive group for the past eight months as he completed his schooling.

“I started out as a lube tech, and these past two months I moved back to the main shop,” said Valencia. “The main shop is where you, like, tear down engines and swap out parts and all that kind of stuff.”

At graduation last week, Valencia was named Outstanding Student in Automotive Technology. Jim Bonham, program chair of Automotive Technology for Ivy Tech’s Kokomo Service Area, explained that the Outstanding Student award was bestowed on Valencia not just for his grade point average (4.0), but also his work product.

“(It was) the result of his hard-working level of commitment to his education and very good time management skills,” said Bonham. “Juan is very detailed in his work, making sure his completed assignments are beyond expectations. When we’re out in the shop, he’s always willing to help other students and always makes sure that all the equipment and tools that have been used are properly stored.”

The excellence displayed by Valencia wasn’t limited to the automotive shop. He also served as a student ambassador on campus, giving tours to prospective students, assisting at various on-campus events, and even dressing up as Ace, the Ivy Tech mascot.

Valencia said the ambassador job was a bit of a surprise to him. He had planned on seeing about job placement within the automotive field when worked with his career coach. He didn’t know what an ambassador did, but he signed up anyway.

“It was something completely different,” said Valencia. “But I love that I became a student ambassador. It was one of the best things that I love about Ivy Tech. I gave tours, and yes, occasionally I dressed up as the mascot. I love doing that, but it does get very hot in there wearing the costume.”

Gloria Keith, Ivy Tech Visit Coordinator, described Valencia as an “outstanding ambassador.”

“He is always to work on time, and he doesn't shy away from doing any task we ask him to do,” said Keith. “Even if it's a little out of his wheelhouse, he will still do it. He has worn our Ace mascot costume. Even with the kindergarteners, he is nothing but polite. When he decides to do something, he's going to do it well. We have thoroughly enjoyed him.”

Tashawnda Brown-Weston, director of Admissions for Ivy Tech's Kokomo Service Area, agreed with Keith’s assessment.

“As an Ivy Tech student ambassador, Juan consistently goes above and beyond,” said Brown-Weston. “He wants to be sure that all campus visits are exceptional experiences. He meticulously attends to prospective students, providing thorough explanations while conducting tours. If needed, he skillfully navigates the golf cart to transport passengers with safety and concern. Not to mention, when he’s embodying Ivy Tech's mascot, Ace, he effortlessly steals the spotlight.”

The new graduate doesn’t plan on stopping his educational journey, even though he’ll have to retire his ambassador role. Once he has a bit more experience under his belt, Valencia plans on pursuing Master Technician certification from Automotive Service Excellence (ASE).

“At first, I thought it was a degree that you earned after your Associate’s,” said Valencia. “But it’s actually a series of five tests on different parts of automotive technology. You have to pass all five to get certified, and you have to retake them every few years to maintain certification.”

With 38 degree programs, three campuses, and 10 different starts for an educational term, Ivy Tech Community College Kokomo Region is attractive, affordable, and close to home. For more information, visit