Recent Joliet Junior College graduate Tom Hahn of Joliet earned national recognition after winning first place and a gold medal in the national SkillsUSA Automotive Service Competition in Louisville, Kentucky on June 26 – an achievement that has given him a chance to represent the United States in the WorldSkills Competition in 2017. This is the first time a JJC automotive student has won gold at the SkillsUSA national competition.
The 2017 WorldSkills competition, which occurs once every two years, will take place in Abu Dahabi, UAE. Hahn will find out if he will be going to the WorldSkills Competition in 2016.
Hahn’s gold medal also earned him a box of tools worth more than $1,000, and because he’s a JJC student, the JJC automotive service program received a 2014 Corvette Stingray as a donation so that future students will be able to use the car to practice and learn valuable hands-on skills.
This is not the first time Hahn has succeeded in the national competition. Last year, he received the silver medal and second place, and when he was a student at Carl Sandburg High School in 2013, he placed 18th in the nation at the high school level.
JJC has traditionally done well at the state level in the SkillsUSA competition, with this past April marking the seventh consecutive year a JJC student has won first place.
Even though he’s been to the national competition three times, Hahn credits his success to hard work, incredible instructors, and a lot of practice in JJC’s lab. And this year, he practiced a little bit differently. In addition to getting himself ready for the competition, he was acting as a teacher and mentor to Carl Sandberg High School student Alex Marneris, who was chosen to represent Illinois in the national SkillsUSA competition at the high school level.
Taking that extra step to teach Marneris really made Hahn better at his skill because it allowed him to think more thoroughly about what he’d learned at JJC the past two years.
“For me, it feels like I knew a lot, but if you’re teaching somebody, there were things that he didn’t know that I needed to double check,” Hahn said.
Hahn and Marneris spent two to three days a week preparing for the competition in JJC’s automotive lab. At the competition, each competitor went through 13 rigorous test stations where they had to figure out what was wrong with a vehicle and repair it in a certain amount of time. The competition, which also included a written portion, lasted eight hours. Even though Hahn said he felt prepared, he still had second thoughts.
“During the competition, I was freaking out at every station because I was finishing five minutes ahead of time, which is either a really bad or a really good thing,” he said. “So I kind of thought I had a 50/50 chance if I nailed it or if I messed up. But I prepped like crazy for this competition. I was so excited when they called my name and I found out I won.”
In addition to Hahn’s win, Marneris won third place at the high school level and received a bronze medal.
Automotive instructor Jim Coleman is extremely proud of Hahn for his accomplishments. The SkillsUSA competition is tough and requires a lot of knowledge on multiple subjects.
“This is a huge achievement for Tom, and we are very proud of him. Tom dedicates long hours of study and practice to improve his skills, and he is probably the most driven student I have ever worked with. I believe he can accomplish anything he puts his mind to,” Coleman said. “I think Tom’s achievement is just another way to demonstrate what a student going to JJC can accomplish.”
Hahn said he couldn’t have been successful in the competition without having the most up-to-date technology to practice with in JJC’s lab, which was built in 2010 as part of the college’s master plan.
“The access to this advanced equipment is really key to doing well in the competition. If we didn’t have it, then I would be seeing it for the first time at the competition,” Hahn said. “Our JJC instructors are also very diverse and knowledgeable. Together, and through every aspect they have helped me to become successful. Those two things are a large advantage, but there’s also a third component, too – it’s all about your determination and your willingness to prepare as a student.”
Now that the competition is over, and Hahn has graduated, the next thing he’s looking forward to is continuing his education at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. There, he plans to study automotive engineering with a specialty in alternative fuels, power train and transmission design. From there, he wants to work with hybrids. He would love to work for Toyota.
For more information about the automotive service technology program at JJC, visit http://www.jjc.edu/automotive-service-tech or call 815-280-2576.