Burnsville auto shop class leads to engineering studies for two students

  • Article by: ERIN ADLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 18, 2013 - 4:02 PM

Skills learned in the Burnsville High School auto shop will take two recent graduates to college, where both will pursue engineering degrees.


Jacob Mischel, teacher Russ Tesmer and Nick Hernandez in the Burnsville High School auto shop.

Photo: Erin Adler, Star Tribune

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The skills that two recent Burnsville High School graduates learned in their high school auto shop will soon take them from under the hoods of cars into a college classroom.

While in high school, Jacob Mischel and Nick Hernandez took multiple automotive classes from teacher Russ Tesmer, and both plan to use that foundation to study engineering at four-year colleges in the fall.

Mischel plans on majoring in electrical engineering at North Dakota State University and Hernandez will pursue mechanical engineering at the University of St. Thomas.

The students’ plans show just how versatile coursework in career and technical education can be, said Tesmer.

“Having this background … it really helps students who are interested in engineering as well as being automotive technicians,” said Tesmer, who has been teaching at Burnsville since 2000. “These guys are using their automotive knowledge as something to build on.”

Tesmer teaches classes in small-engine technology, consumer automotive and welding and auto body repair, as well as courses on topics like photography when needed.

Hernandez is also interested in physics and wants to become a General Motors engineer one day. He said he’s always loved cars and was able to rattle off specifics of different makes and models.

“When I saw they had these classes at the high school, of course I leapt at it,” Hernandez said.

He enjoys the logic and deductive reasoning that goes into fixing cars, he said — skills he’ll need as an engineer.

Mischel said the more he learned about fixing cars, “the more I wanted to know.”

“It’s rewarding to get a vehicle that has something wrong with it — maybe it won’t start, maybe it’s not running properly — and spend some time on it,” he said. “And when you drive it out, it’s working perfectly.”

In early May, the two students participated in the 2013 Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills competition at Hennepin Technical College, where they took second place in Minnesota. It’s the best Burnsville has done in 10 years of competing, Tesmer said.

The pair placed first on the written test but second in the diagnostic portion, so they just missed going to nationals.

The contest, one of the biggest of its kind nationally, challenges teams to fix a new Ford Focus that’s “bugged” with several problems, said Tesmer. They have 90 minutes to do it.

Hernandez and Mischel were one of two teams that fixed all of the car’s problems and drove it across the finish line.

Mischel attributed their success to “the great teaching I’ve gotten from Mr. Tesmer over the years, and the great know-how,” he said.

Tesmer remembers when, several years ago, a language arts teacher got into an accident while driving to school, wrecking the entire front end of her Chevrolet Lumina.

Right away, she came to Tesmer to fix it — and he just happened to have a Lumina in the school’s auto shop.

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