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Derek Spann - High-Tech Shade Tree

It’s hard to be a “shade tree mechanic” these days – unless you have formal post-secondary training and your tree comes equipped with the latest diagnostic equipment.

That’s why Derek Spann got a degree from Columbus State’s Automotive Tech department, graduating in 2014 with a 4.0 GPA. Specifically, he completed the Ford ASSET program, which allows students to get special certifications on Ford vehicles.

Students also learn about the complexity of modern vehicles: For example, a Ford hybrid has 6 different networks and 30 different computerize modules.

“It’s not the old-school, shade-tree mechanic,” the 43-year-old Columbus resident said. “There’s so much technology in new cars. You need to have some pretty highly trained people to work on cars today.”

Ford ASSET students get a work experience at a local dealership or auto shop while they go to school – a paid work experience. And when he was done, Spann landed a job at Germain Ford of Dublin and was able to make an immediate impact. Because of his certifications, he’s now the go-to guy for hard-to-diagnose car problems.

“I had my certifications that I needed to be a senior master technician,” Spann said.

Spann worked in IT for more than 20 years, and was looking for a career change. He already had some auto skills, restoring a 1974 Triumph Spitfire and a ’69 Camaro. After talking to Chuck Wilson, longtime professor in the Auto Tech program, he decided Columbus State was the place to take auto repair from a hobby to a profession.

“Everyone in the Auto Tech department, from (department chair) Dr. Rezin on down to the professors in the shop, they all are tremendous professionals in their field and they have a wealth of experience to pass on,” Spann said. “And they all have a vested interest in seeing you succeed.”

Spann singled out Prof. David Foor for breaking down lessons so complex concepts really stick with you. “He has an uncanny ability to get the best out of people and push them to succeed.”

Although Spann has graduated from program, he’s still involved: He sits on the Ford ASSET program’s advisors board along with representatives from other dealerships and the Ford Motor Co. itself. The programs’ industry support is part of what makes it successful, he said.

Quite a few techs at Germain Ford have graduated from Columbus State’s Ford ASSET program. General Manager Mitchell Gadd said he often hires Columbus State grads and encourages his techs to continue their education. Additional certifications make employees more valuable, and sometimes allow them to move into management positions.

“When I started working on cars in the 1960s and 1970s, it was totally different than it is today,” Gadd said.