“As I work with my students, I get to watch as they develop the skills and knowledge that will make them successful in their fields, but also to become powerful advocates for the trades themselves.”
John Gunderson teaches automotive technology at John Jay High School in San Antonio, Texas. He enrolled in his first automotive class as a senior in high school and immediately took to the trade. Soon, he had convinced his mother—who wanted him to go to college—that the trades could offer a good, stable salary and a career.
After a decade as a master technician in the industry, including mentoring young tradespeople, Gunderson decided to become a teacher in 2005, inheriting a shop that he revitalized. Building his program included an emphasis on creating a hands-on environment as close to what students would find in the industry as possible. His students operate a live shop and start with trainer units before progressing to actual parts and vehicles. Major projects include working on customer vehicles, sourcing their own parts, explaining repairs to customers, and running diagnostics and research. The real-world experience helps Gunderson’s students earn higher wages if they choose to enter the trade right after graduation.
One of the most important parts of Gunderson’s program is the outreach demo program. This program allows students to showcase what they have learned in the community and garner interest from younger students.
“It shows the community that the trades are not just for people who ‘couldn’t make it in college’ or that the jobs are dead ends,” Gunderson says. In addition to the demos, Gunderson makes a point to expose students to career expos, open houses, job shadowing, and internships. His objective is to help students understand what the career field is like while advertising their abilities to potential employers.
To create further connections for his students, Gunderson is certified for four dual-credit courses and is currently working with a local college to begin offering an automotive certificate program that follows the industry standard manufacturer’s certification model. His program produces 50-60 certifications per year—40 percent more than the average for other automotive programs in his district.
Gunderson was a finalist for the 2020 Prize for Teaching Excellence.
“Not every idea will work out, but just like in industry, you cannot stop moving forward because of external factors. Life goes on, and so must learning.”