Chipola College has invested in Jackson County since it opened its doors 70 years ago and has become increasingly more invested year after year. Approximately 15 years ago, Chipola Automotive partnered with what is now Miller and Miller and it has been a road to success for both since that time.
Miller & Miller Nissan has four Chipola Automotive graduates on staff today and they all give credit to the partnership for where they are today. John Gardner oversees the automotive program and Chase Vileg is a key instructor there. Dustin Miller, vice president of Miller & Miller gives accolades for the impact the program has had on Jackson County teaching hands-on skills with work waiting on students when they complete the program. Internships are also available while they are completing the program.
Kyle Lawrence is a 2015 graduate of Sneads High School. After graduation Lawrence enrolled in the automotive technology program at Chipola College and graduated in 2017. Lawrence said, “I got a job kind of early, so I went about the full two years.”
Lawrence has been with Miller & Miller about two years. Lawrence went on to say, “I worked at Auto Zone during school, but this is my first tech job out of school.”
When asked what he thought of the Automotive Technology program at Chipola Lawrence said, “It’s wonderful.” He says the program helps students prepare for real-life situations. When asked about what the rewards of his job were Lawrence said, “Seeing a car come in that don’t even run and it leaves running, knowing you fixed it right.”
Lawrence definitely showed excitement when talking about the new Nissan state-of-the-art facility, “Oh it’s wonderful, we got all new equipment, all new everything. It’s clean and everything’s nice, it makes the job a whole lot easier and better.”
Lawrence had nothing but kudos for the automotive program and Gardner, “Chipola is a great program. It prepared me very well for the work I was going into. Gardner is one of the best instructors there is.” Lawrence shared a story about a van he had worked on, “Y’all would love to have that van down there. For our electrical class it had a bad wheel-speed sensor they thought. Well, the will-speed sensor was fine, the harness was broken above the gas tank. I had to chase that down with continuity and find that both the wires were cut in two, both of them. It looked like someone took a pair of vice grips and went ‘whoosh’.
Another graduate of the program was Joey Macaluso who graduated from Jackson Academy in 2004. Macaluso started Chipola in 2014 and graduated in 2016. Macaluso was offered a job at the Mercedes dealership in Tallahassee where he worked for one year. Macaluso came to Miller & Miller and has been an employee there for almost a year.
When asked about his take on the Miller & Miller Nissan facility and what Chipola gave him to bring to his job Macaluso said, “Chipola gave me the knowledge and the actual ability to become a technician. I’ve always been into cars, but I didn’t know where to take it. When I graduated high school, I was in collision and repair and I was still working on cars, but people didn’t really care what their car looked like as long as it was running. So, that’s where I kind of took it. So, I got up there with Gardner and just listened to absolutely everything he could say and soaked it in. I don’t feel I would be where I am now without going to Chipola. I mean, you can learn from a shade tree mechanic guy but you’re not going to sit there and know voltage drop, and go all in and out, continuity of a wire and circuit. That’s mostly what we deal with here is just all electronics.” Macaluso went on to say, “I’m lead tech here, so I walk around and when they need help, I jump in. We went to school all at the same time but I graduated master tech. I’m really big into electrical and knowing stuff, learning it, reading it. When they need help I go over there and talk to them about it and go let them know if you’re getting continuity on this side, why aren’t you getting it here. Why don’t you do this to check it? This place is all of us, it’s just not one person. That’s one thing I do like about this dealership, it’s a little bit different than the older dealership. No one would really help you that much, but here we’re a team, we’re a family and we help each other as much as we can.” Macaluso has a seven-year-old son, Jackson who will attend Sneads Elementary. He is the son of Raymond and Sharon Macaluso, and has a sister Heather. Macaluso says of his sister, “She was there, she watched Jackson a bunch so I could do everything that I’m doing now.”
Trent Moats is a 2015 graduate of Sneads High School. After graduation Moats enrolled in the automotive technology program at Chipla and graduated in 2016. Moats has always taken an interest in automotive mechanics.
When asked about the advantages of working at Miller & Miller Nissan Moats said, “Oh, it’s nice, way nicer than the other place I was. I enjoy it.” He was with his previous employer for a little over a year before joining Miller & Miller Nissan in June of this year.
Moats said some of the things Chipola prepared him for to be at Miller & Miller were, “It prepared me for all of it, everything that I’ve had to do here, I was prepared to do because of Chipola.”
When asked about how advanced the technology is at Miller & Miller Nissan compared to other places even Chipola, Moats said, “We have a lot of new technology, I mean, it’s nice.”
Christian Wynn is a 2016 graduate of Dayspring Christian Academy. Wynn enrolled in the Automotive Technology program at Chipola and graduated this past year. Wynn said, “I worked at another automotive shop for about a month, then I started here. I started there in January, I left there and I started here February 14.
When asked how Chipola was as far as preparing him for where he is today Wynn said, “It was really well, because I was going to go to UTI first. The money there was a whole lot more expensive than here. I kind of came and toured the school, and they assured me that their credentials were the same as UTI’s. It was a whole lot closer here than going all the way to Orlando. I got here and started doing my work and stuff and they’re more hands on. That’s one thing that helps a lot and obviously you learn more hands on. It gets us better and to be more prepared out in the field because we are a smaller class and going to bigger schools, there’s so many people so you can’t get as hands on so it’s prepared me a lot.” About how he likes the new technology at Miller & Miller Nissan Wynn said, “Here, it’s amazing. I never thought so soon after school I would be working in a brand-new dealership and they went out and bought the most state-of-the-art tools for us to use, so it’s helped out a lot.” Christian is the son of John and Paula Wynn.
John Gardner said about the partnership with Chipola College and Miller & Miller, “The partnership, I think is a big thing between Miller & Miller and Chipola. What happens is they take our guys in and they kind of give them a mentoring situation to give them a chance to work and work there. When they work there it’s kind of a partnership. So, not only are we having a partnership for actually getting these guys out to work, we’re having a partnership for community development too. If we can keep these guys here locally that’s really cool. Joey left for a little while and he went to Mercedes in Tallahassee but he came back because it was a good opportunity here, which was really cool. We always try to put them here locally and keep that economic development in the region going. It’s partnerships, Miller & Miller is really, really strong with taking our techs and giving them apprentice opportunities. They let them come into the shop and let them see the real world. We can only give them so much at Chipola, so really the credit lies in that partnership with Ricky Miller and Michael John (Mitchell). It lets them go in there and lets them see, most places just take these guys and throw them in a shop, give them a repair order and set them up for failure. It’s a lot different with Ricky Miller because him and Chuck Anderson they take them in the shop and they let them work with a tech mentor and they may not be the best tech in the world to start. They have the attitude, they have the skills, they have ethics to go in there and succeed. They give them six months to learn the system and succeed. That’s the big thing, they’re saying great things about Chipola, but the bottom line is the partnership with Ricky Miller and Chuck Anderson and having them on an advisory board allows these guys to be successful. We give them the basics, but they give them what they need to succeed in the automotive industry.”
Darwin Gilmore Dean of Workforce and Economic Development said the Automotive Technology program has about 27 or 28 students. When asked about the program Gilmore said, “It’s an 1,800-hour program and they mainly go fall and spring terms. Some kids will go during the summer too, but mainly the fall and spring terms.” Gilmore said it clocks out to roughly two years but that the students could finish quicker.
In talking about the benefit of having John Gardner as the lead instructor of the automotive technology program Gilmore said, “All this show and the stuff that comes out of that is only because he’s so genuinely good with the students. So, our commitment at Chipola is to make sure we’re finding ways to be good business partners and finding ways to invest in the type of technology to help Ricky make money. That’s what we’re trying to do and we’re committed to that. We want to stay current in technology because it’s changing so fast.”
When asked how long Miler & Miller has been partnered with Chipola College Michael John Mitchell said, “I don’t really don’t have an exact time but it’s over 15 years. We’ve been getting techs for a while. It’s a family atmosphere, they’re all helping each other and pulling each other’s weight. If somebody’s having problems they all get together.”