OCC automotive program: Tell Me Something Good

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ONONDAGA COUNTY, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — “Everybody has a story about a car. Everybody.”

Brian Beckley’s story is a good one. He got a job teaching automotive technology right out of SUNY Oswego, then he had to figure out what to do. He told his first principal he had an idea that might motivate students.

“And said I have a 1967 Camaro that I purchased while I was a college student, but I didn’t have the money or the time to do anything with it,” Beckley remembers. “Can I bring that here and have the students work on it? And she said ‘Absolutely!’”

The plan worked better than he ever expected. His students at East Syracuse Minoa High School finished that Camaro just in time for Ryan to drive it to his wedding that summer. For twenty years, classic restorations were a signature of Beckley’s class.

“There were days when I had more students in lunch, during their lunchtime that were not my students than actually were my students, there was so much interest in it.”

Now, Beckley has brought the concept to Onondaga Community College. This year, his students are restoring a ’57 Chevy Pick-up. They’ll add air conditioning, power windows, even blu-tooth and satellite radio. Not exactly “factory issued” in the late ‘50’s, but expected by drivers today. Even though the truck’s chassis is over 60 years old, it still has a lot to teach.

Beckley says, “The internal combustion system is still doing the same thing it was in 1957. It’s just that we have a lot more controls and electronics involved with it.”

Brian Beckley sees his role on campus as a conduit, putting his students on the road to a successful career. His students love the challenge.

“I think this is pretty awesome, honestly,” says second-year student Brandon Jones. “I’ve always been big into restoration. I watch all the shows on it and it’s just cool watching something that is a piece of junk and turning it into something that’s almost brand new.”

His classmate Stephen Dugas agrees. “It’s just been a great experience so far and I’m really looking forward to really getting rolling with putting stuff back on after we get it cleaned up and get new parts in and everything. It’s gonna look really good.”

Beckley says students who stick with the career can expect the best job prospects he’s ever seen, because of a critical shortage of auto techs around the country.

“This will become a part of their life, whether or not they continue on with this as a career. I hope they do because there is such a need right now.”

At the very least, they’ll have a great story to tell as they head down the road.