Jerad Close of Marseilles grew up in a family that loved to fix and collect antique cars. With a little elbow grease, a medley of tools, and no fear of getting his hands dirty, Close would open the hood of a car and feel like he belonged.
Although he’d worked on cars all his life, Close was a little nervous when he stepped into his first automotive technology class at Joliet Junior College in 2009. Little did he know that this first step would eventually lead him to Warren, Michigan – where he now works as a Project Engineering Technician for General Motors.
Close works in a tech center in Warren, Michigan, where he researches how different parts work on different cars and builds vehicles based on his research. His research and the vehicles are then sent off for tests. If the vehicles pass their tests, then his research is sent to other engineers for designing the next generation of vehicles.
Close never thought something that had once only been a hobby to him would turn into a career at one of the nation’s largest automobile manufacturers.
In fact, Close wasn’t even planning to go into the automotive field in the first place. Instead, he had an interest in Computer Aided Design and Drafting (CADD). It wasn’t until Close was registering for classes at JJC that he had second thoughts about his soon-to-be declared major.
“It was a last minute change. When I went to JJC to register for my first semester, I was looking over the courses required for CADD, and decided that I’d enjoy the automotive program more,” he said. “I was especially interested when I found out about all the hands-on work the automotive program offered.”
Now that he’s working for a prestigious company, he owes his success in part to the encouragement of his JJC automotive professors. Not only did they provide him with an excellent foundation in automotive technology, but they were also the ones who encouraged him to transfer to a four-year school after graduating from JJC. In the beginning, Close was only planning to earn an associate degree.
“JJC’s automotive professors definitely want you to succeed,” Close said. “They opened up the opportunities for me, and encouraged me to go on to another college after JJC. So, when I looked into transferring, it just seemed like the right thing to do.”
After receiving his diploma, Close packed his bags and headed two states away to Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan. Close chose Ferris University because it was one of the schools that accepted all the credits he’d earned in the automotive technology program at JJC. Transferring to Ferris was a transition for Close, but it helped that there were ten other JJC automotive students who transferred there with him.
“They really do create this sense of family in JJC’s automotive program,” Close said. “With our program, there’s only 20 to 40 students that go through each year, so you have the same students in just about all your classes. You make friends pretty quickly and see them every day. There’s a strong camaraderie between the automotive students, and it was less intimidating to be able to transfer to Ferris with a group of people I already knew. We still keep in touch now.”
Another thing he remembers from his experience as a student in JJC’s automotive program is the amount of emphasis that was put on professionalism and having a good attitude on the job. He said working in the automotive lab is what helped him the most.
“We kind of got a feel for things ourselves when we worked in the automotive lab. And it’s nice because you’re always paired up with somebody so there’s always two of you to work through it and figure things out before you have to ask for help if you need it,” Close said.
Though he’s working in a career that he loves, Close wants to eventually go back to school to become an automotive professor so that he can encourage others to succeed, just as his automotive professors did for him.
Close’s advice to future automotive students is to never stop learning.
“There’s so much new stuff that I’m learning even though I’m not in school anymore. With our industry, it’s always evolving, always changing. You have to be willing to learn.”
For more information about JJC’s automotive program, visit www.jjc.edu/automotive-service-tech.