Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Graduates of Cuyamaca College's GM-ASEP program put careers into overdrive

The Cuyamaca College students who graduated this week from an intensive, General Motors-sponsored training program have more than their associate degrees to show for their two solid years of classes and hands-on training – 100 percent employment as automotive technicians.

Rodney Flores, GM-ASEP grad, with his daughters.
Like nearly all who have earned their degrees through college’s GM Automotive Service Education Program, the nine at Tuesday’s commencement ceremony representing the first graduating class since 2009 had jobs waiting for them after completing the program. Alternating classroom instruction with paid internships at GM dealership and AC Delco service centers means two solid years with no semester breaks, but the program’s rigor and its instructional and training excellence has a payoff that’s tough to beat.

“Congratulations, graduates – tonight is really a special time and we are so excited to have the program back at Cuyamaca,” said Cindy L. Miles, chancellor of the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District.

Cuyamaca's GM-ASEP 2015 graduating class and sponsors.
The ASEP program – the only one in the county and one of three statewide -- has been offered at the college for nearly  two decades, but it was suspended in 2009 when the recession forced scores of auto dealerships out of business. The economic uptick led to the program’s resumption in 2013.

“This collaboration between the college, GM and its local dealerships is truly a win-win for everybody,” Miles said, noting that the training program is an excellent example of the district’s commitment to provide the quality of workforce training that today’s employers are demanding.

College president Wei Zhou said when is asked by people in the community about programs unique to Cuyamaca, the automotive technology program is always one of the first that comes to mind. Training partnerships with GM and Ford, along with a high-tech automotive technology center earned the program a top-20 finish for 2011 School of the Year by a national automotive industry magazine.

“Of the 90 students who have graduated from this program, 99 percent got industry jobs right away and are making $60,000 a year as journeymen technicians within five years,” Zhou said. “We are very proud to be associated with this program.”

Chris Branton, coordinator of both ASEP and the automotive technology program at Cuyamaca College, thanked the GM and AC Delco service center representatives for their continued support in sponsoring students, noting that only colleges with solid industry backing were able to revive the program in the wake of the Great Recession.

The guest speaker at Tuesday’s ceremony was Pat Moran, service adviser at South County Buick GMC, who has had a connection with Cuyamaca’s ASEP program since its introduction in 1997.

“The automotive industry has gone through big changes and those in the business have been in a tough predicament finding qualified technicians. It’s nice to have a program like Cuyamaca’s where we can turn to find well-trained, dependable techs,” he said.

Moran then called up his dealership’s sponsored student, Rodney Flores, to be awarded the inaugural GM-ASEP Leadership Award for scholastic and personal achievement.

Flores, a 4.0 honors graduate and Air Force veteran, has proven to be the go-to person, Moran said, whenever a service issue came up involving a high-tech component.

Flores said he specifically came to Cuyamaca College for the ASEP program, deciding to enroll in general automotive classes in 2012 after discovering the GM program had been temporarily shuttered. It was well worth the wait, he said.

“I could not have done it without the support of Chris Branton and all my fellow students for the past two years,” he said. “I knew this was the place to come to hit the ground running as far as my career. I love to come to work every day and I will always remember the dedication of instructors like Chris..”

The appreciation and affection the graduates have for Branton was evidenced, not only by the good-natured banter they traded with their instructor, but the presentation of a Best Instructor award, a framed display bearing the embroidered uniform patch of each student.

“The automotive community is pretty small – word travels in this industry,” said graduate Anthony Belbeck. “One friend to have is Chris Branton. He knows everybody and when dealerships are looking for workers, they know they can depend on him. It has a been a great time these past two years and we all appreciate your efforts in getting us here.”

Introducing each of the graduates in home-spun fashion, drawing laughter with a word play involving their names, it was pretty clear that Branton reciprocated his students’ affection.

The next GM-ASEP classes will be offered in fall 2016.

“I can take a short breather,” Branton said with a chuckle.

For more information about Cuyamaca and Grossmont colleges, go to

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