The goal of L.A. Unified is to provide students with the knowledge and skills to graduate prepared for college, career and life. As we near the end of the school year, we are featuring stories about some of the outstanding members of the Class of 2017.
L.A. Unified educators teach students to follow their passions as they choose the road to success. For Van Nuys Senior High School senior Jaspal Dhillon, that passion is auto mechanics, a pathway he has followed since early childhood and where he has already achieved on a grand scale.
“They say you are supposed to enjoy what you do for a living, and this is what I enjoy,” Dhillon said, as he disabled the air suspension of a Lincoln Navigator in the school’s auto shop. “And, there is a shortage of auto mechanics out there. There is a great need for people who know about the complexity of automotives and are good at working with their hands.
“I don’t see a lot of students going into this field, but it’s one that I am really excited about.”
Dhillon has good reason to be excited. Beginning in his sophomore year, he has been a rising star in automotive technology at Van Nuys High, logging a myriad of high school and college credits in auto mechanics. He has attended technical summer camps at UCLA and participated in a number of internships with local dealerships.
He also has been winning awards at national automotive competitions, racking up scholarships and thousands of dollars worth of tools. He hasn’t yet received his high school diploma but already has job offers from six companies.
“They keep telling me, ’Call as soon as you graduate, we have a job for you,'” he said, smiling.
Earlier this month, Dhillon won the gold medal in SkillsUSA’s statewide championship in automotive service technology. That carried with it two scholarships in manufacturer-specific courses of study with Ford and BMW at the Universal Technical Institute (UTI), an automotive technology trade school. Dhillon also will be representing California next month at the SkillsUSA nationals in Louisville, KY.
Dhillon spends hours after school practicing in the automotive shop before moving on to Pierce College in Woodland Hills, where he is taking night courses to supplement what he has learned at Van Nuys High. He also interns on Saturdays at a car dealership in Van Nuys.
He has earned enough college credits that he is close to earning an associate’s degree. He plans to take advantage of the Ford and BMW scholarships at UTI and eventually wants to get a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering.
Dhillon became interested in cars as a youngster, tinkering with his father on an old Datsun. Realizing his love for auto mechanics, his older sister – a Van Nuys High grad – recommended that he enroll in the school’s automotive program, run by teacher Joe Agruso.
“I am really thankful to Mr. Agruso for being such a great mentor to me,” Dhillon said. “I don’t think I would have had all these opportunities without his help. He not only teaches about automotive mechanics, he teaches you about reaching your life goals. I feel like he’s made a big difference in preparing me for what’s ahead.”
Agruso, who has taught automotive courses at Van Nuys High for the past 12 years, says it’s finding the stars like Dhillon that make the job rewarding.
“I resisted the pull to become a teacher for many years, because I didn’t think it was for me,” he said. “Now, having had the chance to teach students like Jaspal, my only regret is I didn’t start teaching a lot earlier.”
The automotive program offered by Van Nuys High that has contributed to Dhillon’s success is an example of a career technical education pathway made possible by grant funding administered through L.A. Unified’s Linked Learning Office.
The eyes of L.A. Unified will be on Dhillon next month as he competes in the national SkillsUSA contest. Doing well would mean more scholarships, tools, internships and job opportunities. As far as Dhillon is concerned, more is always welcome.
“I work on cars every single day,” he said. “It’s important to continue learning because the technology is always advancing and changing. As long as I am learning new things and finding new solutions to problems, I feel happy with where I am and where I am going.”