Special Assignment: Diesel Education Challenge
I’m drafting this edition of my column on one of the final days of August 2016, a point on the calendar that (for me) represents the end of another great summer. Now, please understand that I know the party really isn’t over yet, and that most of us still have plenty of opportunities to continue cooking food on the grill outside, going swimming, and participating in other summer centric activities. Hell, the Farmer’s Almanac says fall officially starts on September 22, 2016. For the sake of this discussion, that’s almost a full month after I’ve said my goodbye to the Summer Solstice.
Fall semesters for most schools typically start somewhere in the timeframe I’m talking about (as opposed to the mid-September dates of the long-ago past). Television commercials for new clothes and supplies kick things off, and then, before you know it, there’s more traffic on the roads (school buses and parents’ SUVs making deliveries and pickups), and the wait for service at Starbucks is 3 to 5 minutes longer.
Because of our unique position in the performance-diesel scene—as reporters, and, somewhat, as educators—this time of the year makes me think about young people heading off to high school and college. I wonder how many students are studying or aspiring to have a career in the diesel industry, as mechanics (or, using the modern-day term, “technicians”), or maybe even as scribes for this publication, “The World’s Largest,” and, hopefully favorite, diesel magazine. Similar to the saying a man’s wish is to have a son who will carry on the family name, it’s my hope there are young men and women out there (maybe even reading this), who are hitting the books and/or getting their hands dirty, gaining knowledge and skills that will help them continue to advance the technology that drives this oil-burner lifestyle we love. In July 2016, I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Willie D. Sweet Jr. Willie is the Automotive Technology Instructor at Whites Creek High School in Whites Creek, Tennessee. We met at the Outlaw Diesel Super Series event in Crossville (look for Tommy Lee Boyd’s recap of the Rocky Mountain Diesel Shootout in our January ’17 issue) and talked a lot about there being a big need for students who want to work in the automotive and diesel industries (even on the media side we’re on). I was fortunate enough to have auto mechanics classes (I, II, and III) offered for me to take in high school, and those courses were certainly beneficial to me landing the various positions I’ve held in the auto biz—long before this magazine stuff happened for me. Granted, that was ages ago. But today, economic belt-tightening in school districts all over the country is causing shop classes and many other once-popular vocational curriculums to fall by the wayside.
In my book, it’s a serious problem that really needs fixing, and I’ve been trying to think of things Diesel Power can do to help foster young peoples’ interest in the diesel scene—more so by way of doing the work that we do: researching and reporting on almost anything associated with it. In my meeting with Willie, he explained that “developing biodiesel fuel” is one of the projects his students are working on during the 2016-2017 school year. Through Willie, I’ve issued an “assignment” for a group of kids he selected to gather data and photo elements on how they produce the fuel and to prepare (for consideration in a future issue of Diesel Power) a thorough, soup-to-nuts tech article about that refining process.
After thinking about it a bit more, I’ve decided to extend this “Diesel Education Challenge” to shop programs that are working on interesting diesel-focused projects. Teachers and professors, send me an email with a thorough, detailed outline of the effort, and if it’s something we feel will be interesting (“cool”) and will make for a good article, we’ll make it an assignment. I encourage you to work with your institutions’ English departments (and photography instructors, if they’re available), as the exercise is something I think should be considered for some sort of credit in those classes.
Of course, there’s no compensation beyond students earning a byline and having the satisfaction of reading their work in the “The World’s Largest Diesel Magazine,” and we’re not sponsoring parts and equipment for getting things done.
It’s an opportunity to “do what we do (prepare magazine and web content about diesel performance)” and have that work evaluated (constructive criticism, of course) by the Diesel Power staff. In the end, I’d like for students to at least consider wanting to do this for a living, the same way I want them to spin wrenches, build engines, and right the wrongs of sickly oil-burners whenever necessary.
I applaud the things Willie and shop teachers at other high schools and vocational colleges nationwide are doing for their students, and I also give props to the students in those programs. The way I see it, we’re all carrying a very important torch for the diesel industry and hobby. The mission is to keep the torch’s flame lit forever.