49er ROP automotive students zoom to success

Automotive technology classes at Placer High School take students to the racetrack and beyond
By: Andrew DiLuccia, Journal Motoring Editor
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These days the auto shop at Placer High School is looking a lot more like a service department at a Mazda dealership than a high school classroom. And the many Mazda Miatas worked on there are helping to launch the automotive careers of local students. The 49er ROP automotive students have gotten behind instructor Al Angulo’s passion for racing Miatas, working on his own personal racecar and several others the instructor has brought in for invaluable hands-on experience. That hands-on approach has helped some of his students become members of the Mazda MX-5 Cup racing team, traveling around the country, working on the pit crew and visiting some of auto racing’s most revered Meccas. One of those students is Maria Nemes, who went from Angulo’s beginning automotive technology class all the way to the Mazda MX-5 Cup pit crew and working in places such as Daytona, home of the famous Daytona 500 in NASCAR. “It’s amazing, it’s one of those experiences when you watch it on TV, that would be so cool to be there — and then it happens,” said Nemes, who graduated from Maidu High School, but visited the advanced class Monday. Nemes is one of two students, along with Jacob Kalisiak, who were selected to intern on the Mazda MX-5 Cup Team. The two students were picked by Angulo for Tony Silva, who is the crew chief for the Mazda MX-5 Cup team and a close personal friend of Angulo. The idea for students on the team came while Silva and Angulo were working on the teacher’s Miatas for races in the San Francisco Region of the Sports Car Club of America circuit. The crew chief asked the teacher if he had any students that he thought would be up to the challenge of working on a professional race car pit crew for a race he had coming up at Laguna Seca, and Angulo had two in mind. Since that experience, Nemes has continued to work on the team while Kalisiak has turned his attention to becoming a certified Ford Motor Co. technician, all the while interning for Penny Racing Supply in Sacramento, working on racing engines. “It was amazing, I did six or seven races all over the country,” Kalisiak said of his pit crew experience. “I did a lot of cool things and I went to a lot of cool places. I got a great experience from it.” Nemes and Kalisiak are just two examples of an ever-popular program that opens the doors to a new career field for students. From learning how to change oil to taking apart an engine and putting it back together again, the students at the 49er ROP automotive technology class at Placer High learn the necessary skills to go out into the workforce. “About 85 percent of the students are offered a job at the end of the school year,” Angulo said. But the program does more than just offer career help, it gives students a passion and a goal, which Angulo enjoys. “I like to see a student that is a kind of lost, then figures out this is what they want to do as a career and makes big strides to that and then comes back successful,” Angulo said. While some go right into the workforce from the shop, many others get to “point B,” as Angulo calls it, by continuing their education at automotive vocational schools such as Universal Technical Institute and WyoTech. The program breaks down into two groups, the beginner classes, which are five days a week and are for both Placer High students and students from about 20 other high schools in the area, and the advanced class. The upper-level course meets only once a week on Monday and the other four days, from 1 to 4 p.m., these students are working out in the area getting hands-on experience at professional shops. “In the beginning class they don’t even know how to spell ‘lug nut,’ and then we take them to using diagnostic tools,” Angulo said. Because the program is put on by 49er ROP, the course is open to other high schools that don’t have auto shop, and to those that are already out of high school. But getting into the course is not easy — you have to be selected. “I talk to the parents, I talk to the counselors and I also interview the kids (before selecting them for the class),” Angulo said. “At Del Oro a student has to write a letter to the counselor stating why they should be in the auto class. They have to do that, just to be considered for the selection process.” Hundreds apply every year, but only 28 students are selected for each of the two beginner classes, and only 17 for the advanced. “We view it as both a benefit to the students, the school and the community as a whole,” said Placer High principal Peter Efstathiu of the 49er ROP program. “Al is a great teacher and he works well with the students and he has a passion for learning more for himself and making sure the kids learn more about cars and automotive repair in general.” In the current economic struggles that have forced cuts to education programs, such as the proposal of eliminating the automotive program at Sierra College, the 49er ROP program continues to offer students some of the more advance tools and strong hands-on experience to prepare them for the real world. “ROP is very well funded by the school board. They really believe in vocational education classes,” Angulo said. “Even in tough times we have way to fund this program.” As for Nemes and Kalisiak, they’re happy for the opportunities they have had through the 49er ROP program and Nemes looks forward to furthering her racing career. “From Day 1 Al (Angulo) really inspired me to do well and to study,” Nemes said. “And I like the work and I think the way he presented it really clicked for me. I think programs like this and ROP are great.” Andrew DiLuccia can be reached at __________ The Al Angulo File Who: Teacher of 49er ROP automotive technology program at Placer High School Age: 47 Stats: Married; five children; 20-year Ford Motor Co. technician for area dealerships; a graduate of Nevada Union High School and a former student in the 49er ROP program; been teaching program for eight years; lives in Grass Valley. Activities: Trains hunting dogs (has some of the top-10 hunting dogs in the country); races in the San Francisco Region of the Sports Car Club of America; Races in the 24 Hours of ‘Lemons’ where a car is driven for 24 hours straight and is only valued at $500; grows rose bushes.