MURPHYSBORO -- Tyler Mironas won’t graduate until May, but the New Lenox senior was offered his dream job three months ago.

The SIU automotive technology student will move to California to work in the product quality and service support building at Toyota’s corporate headquarters.

“That’s somewhere in a million years I didn’t think I would be,” Mironas said.

Most graduates of SIU’s automotive technology program don’t enter the job market, but walk through the front door of a major vehicle or part manufacturer immediately after graduation.

Last May, 88 percent of the program’s graduates had already accepted job offers before graduation, with starting salaries ranging between $45,000 and $70,000.

“We’re known for the quality of what we produce out of this program to the point that these major companies are coming in courting them even as freshman,” said Michael Behrmann, Automotive Technology chair.

The comprehensive program, which began in 1952 in Carterville, mixes technical, hands-on training with instruction in the marketing and business management aspects of the automotive industry.

A few of the school’s graduates will take positions in services or car dealerships, but the vast majority of graduates are heavily recruited to go to work for major manufacturers like Ford, General Motors, Bosch, and International.

Manufacturers recruit students through internships that pay $18 to $22 per hour. Mironas’ internship with Toyota led to his job offer from the automobile maker.

“These companies have a huge need for good talent, and we’re known for the quality that comes out of this program to where they’re beating down our doors trying to get a hold of our students very early on,” Behrmann said.

The highly competitive program admits almost 250 students into the program, with ACT scores and grade-point averages factoring heavily into whether a student is admitted.

Succeeding in the program takes more than just intellect, though, with Behrmann saying the program is for “somebody that has a passion for technology, that loves trying to figure out how things work, why they work and the way they do.”

Students come from all over the country to the program which has built a nationwide reputation. Only a small fraction come from the Southern Illinois area.

With 120 training cars and trucks donated by some of the major manufacturers, students are able to put vehicles through a wide range of testing and diagnostic work, making applications to theories learned in the classroom from 13 faculty members.

An electric car is also being developed in one of its many Transportation Education Center labs at the Southern Illinois Airport to give students hands-on experience with the environmentally-friendly vehicle.

“Our students will develop a hypothesis and they’ll go out and try to prove out that hypothesis on a vehicle -- did it react the way the way they thought it was going to and did it react differently,” Behrmann said.

The program’s curriculum is both unique, with intensive block scheduling that puts students in one class for 16 to 20 hours a week, and challenging for students.

But as Mironas is finding out the challenge can pay off.

“We’ll give them the opportunity to shine, we’ll give them the opportunity to succeed in this industry, but they’ll have to work hard for that,” Behrmann said.

Mironas has taken advantage of his opportunity and will travel in July to Torrance, California, to begin his career, taking with him his love for vehicles.

“If you’re passionate about the industry, the jobs are jobs where you’ll never have to work a day in your life,” Mironas said.

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Chris Hottensen is the entertainment and features reporter for The Southern Illinoisan.

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