(HARLINGEN, Texas) – Many automobile aficionados recall how they first grew an admiration for the automobile industry.
For Kevin Cantu, of Pharr, the oil change he performed on his grandfather’s vehicle as a teenager would lead to an education at Texas State Technical College.
After that moment, Cantu’s interest in automotive knowledge spread like a wildfire.
In high school, he recalled having a conversation with his counselor about pursuing college.
“I mentioned I had an interest in fixing vehicles,” he said. “Her suggestion was to enroll in the Auto Collision and Management Technology program at TSTC’s Harlingen campus.”
Now, not only is Cantu pursuing an Associate of Applied Science degree in Auto Collision and Management Technology – Repair Specialization at TSTC, but he is gaining experience at the Payne Collision Center in Pharr as a full-time auto body technician intern.
In his first three weeks on the job, he was instructed about safety and how to disassemble and reassemble vehicles.
“I am learning how to repair dents, scratches, and (how to perform) other duties requested by the master technician,” he said. “I also assist in pulling frames and some welding procedures.”
He added that the best part of the job is learning about a variety of vehicles.
“I enjoy the knowledge of how each automobile is made,” he said. “It is fascinating to understand how they are different. Sometimes I get the opportunity to work on a classic car or a luxury vehicle that comes into the shop.”
Luis Solis, general manager for Payne Collision Center in Pharr, said his employee has an excellent attitude.
“Working in the field is different from what is learned in college,” he said. “What he learned in school is being fine-tuned by the best technicians in our industry.”
Maria Ramirez, a TSTC Auto Collision and Management Technology instructor at the Harlingen campus, said Cantu is hardworking.
“His eagerness to learn is motivation that comes from his siblings,” she said. “Everything he has learned, such as welding, torch and other areas, has benefited him to where he is now.”
Now in his third semester at TSTC, Cantu chuckled about how his knowledge was minimal during his first semester.
“I barely knew how to use a wrench or use any tools,” he said. “Now I can take bumpers apart and put them back together. I know how to remove headlights from a car and several other things.”
He recalled a favorite experience when he and his fellow classmates worked on their first vehicle.
“We worked on a truck that belonged to a student’s mother,” he said. “The overall process was exciting. The new parts took a while to be shipped as expected. In the end, the truck looked brand-new.”
Cantu said his future plans include establishing his own automotive shop.
Automotive body and related repairers can make a yearly median salary of $46,390 in Texas, according to onetonline.org. The number of these jobs in the state is expected to increase 11% by 2028.
TSTC offers an Associate of Applied Science degree in Auto Collision and Management Technology, with specializations in repair and refinishing, and certificates of completion in Auto Collision Refinishing and Auto Collision Repair.
Registration for the summer and fall semesters is underway. For more information, visit tstc.edu.