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Grant Awards From Industry Partner Fuels Year Two of Heavy Equipment/Diesel Tech Program at CHS

Grants from the Caterpillar Dealer Excellence Fund and Holt Cat Texas have provided major assistance in fueling Cleburne High School’s Heavy Equipment/Diesel Technician program that is now in year two.

                Together, Caterpillar Dealer Excellence Funds and matched grant funds from Holt Cat Texas have provided more than $100,000 in equipment since the inception of the Heavy Equipment/ Diesel Technician program in CISD.  This year, grant funds were allocated to purchase seven common rail diesel engines, which have been placed at student stations within the Diesel Technician Lab in the high school’s Career and Technical Education Center.

                Since the introduction of Diesel Tech in 2020-21, the equipment arsenal available to students has expanded to also include a series of electric trainers, two six-cylinder Cummins engines, as well as a running engine with tier 4 emissions components.  This is in addition to a series of small Briggs & Stratton engines, primarily used in introductory classes.   

“What sets our program apart from the others, is most would have one motor, while we have seven, thanks to this grant,” Diesel Tech teacher Daq Querry said. “This gives every student access within their class period rather than waiting around for their turn or rotation. We can have a team on these engines, on electric trainers, technicians conducting diagnostics and a small group focused on addressing and repairing common issues.  This gives every student quality hands-on time to practice and perfect their skills.”

                 After last year’s launch with Principles of Transportation, the Technician I class has been added to serve second-year students. Both the introductory and Tech I classes are filled to capacity.

                “We had high interest in the Principles class, with more requesting the course than we had room to accommodate,” Querry said. “We host eighth grade students during recruitment events and enrolled 75 young men and women that have a passion for work in this field. The same held true with Tech I, with most students deciding to stick with the program and move to the next level.  We are full, but it is a good problem to have.”

                Stephanie Estrada is among the second-year students in the Tech I class. Querry says the sophomore is one of his best students.

                “Stephanie pays attention and then gets to work,” he said. “If I had 120 like her in this program, life would be great.”

                Estrada says she’s happy to see more girls enrolling in Heavy Equipment/Diesel Tech—and would like to see that interest grow.

                “I’m excited to see more girls this year,” she said. “I’m in a class with 24 guys. Sometimes it’s challenging, but I can hold my own. I grew up hanging around guys who were always working on their cars. My dad works on cars and my brother is a mechanic.”

                “In eighth grade, when I saw this as a course option I knew it was something I wanted to do,” Estrada said. “Last year I didn’t expect it to be that hands-on, but it was. We took things apart and put them back together. I like projects and learning how something works. This year, we are getting to know the ‘fix it’ side of engines—how to repair what’s wrong. I’m really enjoying it.”

                Mark McClure, director of Career and Technical Education, says seeing the second tier added to what will ultimately be a four-year program, backed by the response from students, is very encouraging.

                “Before the start of this program in 2020-21, when we brought eighth graders over, we had an empty shop and no teacher,” he said. “Yet 75 incoming freshmen were excited enough to enroll, and that spoke volumes. In year two, to see double the interest, it’s pretty great.”

                “The level of industry response and support we’ve received tells us this is a high need occupation area and one they are hoping our high school can provide,” McClure said. “There is a lot of opportunities for our students, who will ultimately become the workforce for the heavy equipment industry.  Students who master the skills will have the ability to go straight from high school into a high-wage area, with the opportunity for advancement. They will also have the ability to gain additional knowledge and training, provided by their employers.”

                Holt CAT has shared the vision for a Heavy Equipment/Diesel Tech program at CHS since day one, and has looked for ways to assist in its development, launch and to provide ongoing support—including internships.

                “Holt CAT has developed a High School Partnership Concept which gives us a clear cut view of what they are looking for in students coming out of this program,” McClure said. “They are also interested in being involved in the development of students through classroom interaction, through financial and technological support and utilizing students as interns—and what students can expect from that opportunity. Their plan reflects everything you would like to see in an industry partnership.”

                “It’s exciting for us to see juniors and seniors accepted into their internship program, where they can be shaped into the employee Holt CAT would like working at their facilities,” McClure said. “Starting at the top level of leadership, they look for ways to say ‘yes’ when it’s easy to say ‘no.’ There is often a hesitancy to bring young people into the heavy equipment industry while they are still learning. But Holt CAT looked outside the box in finding an answer to their workforce needs, in partnering with programs like ours.”

                According to Querry, 60 percent of his students want internships, knowing what can come from that. Querry has a good idea of what an internship can provide, having worked for Holt CAT before moving into education.

                “In the Principles class, we give students the 1,000-foot view,” Querry said. “We get their feet wet in order for them to really know where they want to be. In our Technician I class, they receive the 100-foot view. Some of our kids just want to be able to take care of their own repairs or choose to switch to the auto tech route. Those 60 percent who want to stay with the program through year four, in the hopes of getting an internship--they are at the ten-foot view. If they are selected as interns they will be engaged as technicians, in shipping, in learning about every position. They are on the job—they are there.”

                Estrada says landing an internship is a driving force in where she wants to go as a diesel tech student.

                “I want an internship,” she said. “I think I would be a really good intern. I want a career in the diesel tech industry—it’s what I’m striving for.”

                Querry says while his program may still be viewed as “new” in Cleburne CTE’s cavalcade of learning and career opportunities for students, it has definitely shifted out of first gear.

                “We are on schedule, and we are light years of where our industry partners thought we would be when they helped us shape what we wanted this program to look like,” he said. “A lot of that is due to the level of equipment, tools and materials that are supplementing what we are teaching.  And we are grateful for all they have done in providing that, with the help of these grants.”

                McClure is hopeful other members of the heavy equipment industry will adopt their own version of Holt CAT’s High School Partnership Concept—and look closely at partnering with Cleburne’s diesel tech program.

                “We need additional partners to provide expanded internships for this growing program,” he said. “We are working very hard to make that happen.”

                In the meantime, McClure says diesel tech will stay in drive, with no plans to stop.

                “Looking down the road, we are building as we go,” he said. “We are staying one step ahead of our students in implementing projects and initiatives for a seamless transition into the workplace.”