Summer Automotive Camps Igniting Interest in College and Careers

High school students who attended the annual event will enroll in Automotive Maintenance Technician program

Mark Feldmann,

June 30, 2023

Martin Romo

I’m excited to get started. The camps and workshops at MATC have really shown me what I could do. I’m ready to work on anything and everything that has a motor and wheels.

Martin Romo Incoming MATC Student, Automotive Maintenance Technician Program

MILWAUKEE – When he was 6 years old, Martin Romo wasn’t happy until his mother replaced his toy hammer with a real one.

When he was 8, Romo helped a neighbor start her car by tapping on the alternator with a screwdriver.

In middle school, he attended the first of four automotive summer camps sponsored by Milwaukee Area Technical College to get young people interested in automotive and transportations careers. When he was 15, he could install brakes, change oil, repair alternators and switch out spark plugs in almost any kind of car.

“Cars have been his passion forever,” said Rosa Colan, Romo’s mother. “He never watched cartoons on TV. He always watched car auctions. He has always put his hands to good use and now he’s following through with his dreams.”

In the fall, Romo, now 18, will enroll in MATC’s Automotive Maintenance Technician program.

“I’m excited to get started,” said Romo, who graduated from Grandview High School on Milwaukee’s south side in May. “The camps and workshops at MATC have really shown me what I could do. I’m ready to work on anything and everything that has a motor and wheels.”

Romo is one of several soon-to-be MATC students who attended the automotive camps, held each summer for the past five years.

Joining Romo will be Angelia Velez, 19, who graduated from Milwaukee Public Schools’ Milwaukee School of Languages in the spring of 2022. Jesus Roque, 17, who this fall will start his senior year at Dominican High School in Whitefish Bay, is thinking seriously about coming to MATC after he graduates.

The summer camps are part of MATCDrive, an initiative launched in July 2017 to build awareness of the well-paying career opportunities in the transportation servicing sector throughout the Milwaukee area, and provide comprehensive social and academic support to students and faculty to maximize academic and career success.

“These students show the strength and power of our summer camp programming,” said Reggie Parks, Ph.D., retention coach for MATCDrive. “These students are learning about these career opportunities sooner rather than later, and that has helped us translate that into meaningful enrollment for the college.”

Velez grew up around cars. Her father was the head mechanic at a repair shop. Her brother went through MATC’s Automotive Maintenance Technician program and worked at a Subaru dealership for several years.

“I have never been scared of doing anything with cars,” she said. “I’ve been around them forever.”

Roque attended the summer camp in 2022. Since then, he has replaced the brakes on his car and changed the oil three times. He said he plans to enroll in the Automotive Maintenance Technician program or study nursing.

“I’d like to focus on one, but you will always be able to use the automotive skills,” Roque said. “Going to the camp really opened my eyes to what I could do. The things I learned there were neat.”

Each summer camp has had a different theme, Parks said. The 2022 event focused on simple repairs, maintenance and diagnostics. This year’s camp, to be held July 24-26 at the Al Hurvis/PEAK Transportation Center at MATC’s Downtown Milwaukee Campus, will concentrate on electric vehicles, 3D printing and high-tech diagnostic systems, he said.

“Electric cars and electric trucks are the wave of the future,” Parks said. “These are the upcoming trends. We want to show camp participants what having a career in this field will look like.”

The nation is in dire need of mechanics and technicians. Seasoned mechanics are retiring at an increased rate posing a challenge for shops attempting to fill vacant positions.

According to the National Automobile Dealer Association, around 76,000 auto mechanic positions open up every year compared to 39,000 workers coming out of technical colleges or training programs.

“Each year in which positions go unfilled merely rolls them over to the following year, digging a deeper hole to recover from,” said a study released in May by the TechForce Foundation, a nonprofit group that supports career exploration and workforce development in various transportation fields. “Students need to be seriously considering this option early on, and that will only happen when they are able to interact with an engaged industry that shows them career opportunities they can be excited about.”

MATCDrive has been able to do that thanks to generous assistance from regional businesses that want to expand the potential workforce, Parks said.

"The support and funding from Tom Hurvis, founder of PEAK Automotive and Old World Industries, and other industry partners has been key to the success of the MATCDrive summer camp programming,” Parks said. “We have been able to share our summer camp experiences with diverse youth from central city Milwaukee and the surrounding areas.”

Learn about MATC’s Automotive Maintenance Technician program

About MATC: Wisconsin’s largest technical college and one of the most diverse two-year institutions in the Midwest, Milwaukee Area Technical College is a key driver of southeastern Wisconsin’s economy and has provided innovative education in the region since 1912. More than 25,000 students per year attend the college’s four campuses and community-based sites or learn online. MATC offers affordable and accessible education and training opportunities that empower and transform lives in the community. The college offers more than 170 academic programs — many that prepare students for jobs immediately upon completion and others that provide transfer options leading to bachelor’s degrees with more than 40 four-year colleges and universities. Overwhelmingly, MATC graduates build careers and businesses in southeastern Wisconsin. The college is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.