It was during Tyler Utley's 10th-grade visit to the Portage Lakes Career Center (PLCC) that he made a decision on his future.

It was during Tyler Utley’s 10th-grade visit to the Portage Lakes Career Center (PLCC) that he made a decision on his future.

“I just chose this (Automotive Technology) because I saw everything going on and I knew that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life,” Utley, a senior at Coventry High School, said.

Students attending the Automotive Technology classes have many options upon graduation. Instructor Ron Balis said there is so much more to the industry than working hands-on. He listed jobs including parts departments, service writers, sales and owning an auto-related business.

Balis understands the options. He began working in a gas station while in high school. He scrubbed floors, worked the cash register and pumped gas. Throughout his last two years of high school he attended a program much like the one he now teaches at PLCC. “I entered that class not knowing much about cars,” Balis said. “My dad did a lot of work on cars. I might have helped someone do something, but I really did not know about cars.”

After high school, Balis entertained the idea of owning a shop of his own. He he took some business management classes and joined the two-year ASEP program at Tri-C. He managed a gas station, worked as a technician for about 17 years and then began teaching at Tri-C.

He has been teaching the program at PLCC for 9 years.

When Dustin Freeman, a graduate of Manchester High School, was little he and his father built model cars.

“That is what got me into big cars,” Freeman said, “and now that I am here, I can pretty much apply this to anything.”

For example, Freeman said, lessons learned about vehicle electrical work can be applied to home wiring.

When students come into the program – whether they have some experience or no experience – Balis said they  go over the bumper-to-bumper basics. Students get an overview, learning about steering, suspension, brakes, engines, electrical, engine performance, heating, air conditioning and transmission.

The lessons learned about electrical work are among the most important, according to Balis.

“Electrical diagnoses is something that is needed,” Balis said. “I am always encouraging them to take hold of the electrical aspect and get as much out of it as they can.”

Balis said he suggests for students to go beyond the program to a post secondary school for additional training. This additional training will help propel students in their chosen careers.

And that career, for many including Utley, will become a passion.

“It started when my dad bought my grandpa’s 1953 Ford Custom Line,” Utley said. “It was the way it sounded when we worked on it. I always wanted to work hands on.”

Utley plans to take Balis’ advice and continue his education, hopefully at Ohio Technical College to become a diesel technician.

Freeman is doing his best to develop as many of his skills as possible. He’s taking advantage of an opportunity to participate in the Skills USA competition in the customer service division.

“I would like to apply myself and try to help as many people as possible,” Freeman said. “Being in the industry that I am, working at a Fred Martin Super Store, it is all about customers. I love the expiernce that I share with them and all the people that I meet there during the day.”

Freeman also plans to continue his education and would like to join the military. He hopes to work on airplanes, studying aeronautics.

“I am very lucky to have this program,” Freeman said.

Portage Lakes Career Center serves four home school districts, Coventry, Green, Manchester and Springfield as well as offers adult education. For more information visit