Growing up in the unincorporated town of Laclede, Idaho, Luke Thomas didn’t know what he wanted to do after high school—but he did know he loved working on cars.
“We had a neighbor who worked on cars, and he helped me restore my first vehicle,” said Thomas.
From then on, Thomas was hooked. A family friend who taught at Lewis-Clark State College (LCSC) recommended its two-year Collision Repair Technology program. The program’s reputation, hands-on application, small class size, and one-on-one time with the instructor all appealed to Thomas, who graduated with an Associate of Applied Science in 2008.
After graduation, Thomas’ career was humming along. He had his own repair shop and worked on custom restorations, but he wanted to explore a different facet of the industry. Around that time, Thomas’ professor, Clarence Griffin, decided to transition to teaching part-time, so Thomas saw an opportunity to teach in the same program from which he graduated.
“I was ready for a change and the opportunity to teach the collision program arose at the right time,” said Thomas. “It sounded like a fun way to change things up and help make a difference in the industry.”
During his first three years teaching, Thomas was grateful to be teaching alongside Griffin. And for the most part, Thomas kept the program the same as when he completed it. During the first year, core instruction is provided, and during the second year, students receive in-depth instruction in more complex systems and hands-on training in mock and customer projects.
A major component of the program is completing an eight-week internship with a local shop. Many students have jobs lined up after graduation at the shop where they completed their internship, which many keep until they decide to move on. The internship allows employers to tap into a talent pipeline to fill their needed positions, which Thomas says translates into more support for the program. Body shop owners have donated vehicles, parts, and uniforms or provided scholarships for the students, and vendors will come in for demonstrations or product training.
Six years later, Thomas has found what he was looking for as a career technical educator. Teaching gave him the freedom to continue running his repair shop and custom restoration business while having more time to pursue other interests. It’s also given him a more holistic perspective of the industry he loves, deepening his appreciation for it.
Above all, Thomas says teaching has allowed him to share his passion with others. “I like seeing someone make something of themselves,” said Thomas. “It takes a lot of work to complete the two-year program, and it’s very rewarding to see a student who completed the program working in the industry and enjoying it.”