The auto industry is no stranger to bringing education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) to youth. In fact, over the last decade, several automobile manufacturers have helped to establish STEM learning initiatives in high schools nationwide. A STEM learning initiative known as SME PRIME Schools focuses on promoting automotive-related manufacturing engineering.
Students who are not fortunate enough to be able to enroll in one of these SME PRIME Schools can pursue other opportunities to advance their STEM skills through automotive technology. These opportunities are offered by organizations such as the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA), the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR), and the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA).
NHRA YES Program
The NHRA offers a STEM education program called YES, standing for Youth and Education Services, a motorsports program which is appropriate for students from middle school to post-secondary school. Established in 1989, the YES program provides quality educational activities and programs for youth. The NHRA boasts more than 25,000 student participants. In addition, the NHRA notes that the YES program, which highlights how STEM concepts apply to drag racing, is free to participants and consists of both lesson plans and events at NHRA-sponsored drag races across the country.
The lesson plans offered on the YES program’s website focus on STEM topics such as acceleration, precision measurements, velocity, safety engineering, and computation, among others. Other lessons relate to language arts and business marketing. Students who complete these lessons prior to attending a race day YES program can benefit by observing real-world applications of the lessons during the races.
Another part of the YES program occurs on race days when the NHRA explains that students attend races as part of chaperoned school groups or as members of other organized groups or clubs. In the track’s midway, participants can enjoy interactive displays, contests, and the chance to observe the technology used in NHRA race cars up close. They can also attend presentations by NHRA officials, NHRA race teams, and other speakers focused on STEM-related career opportunities. Additionally, students can access the track’s pit area where they can have personal conversations with race teams.
NASCAR Technical Institute
The NASCAR Technical Institute (NASCAR Tech) is a partnership with Universal Technical Institute, a multi-site higher education institution headquartered in Illinois that offers automotive-related STEM education to students aged 16 and up who have completed a high school education. According to NASCAR Tech, the school’s location in Mooresville, North Carolina, is easily accessible to many paved and dirt race tracks, most significantly Charlotte Motor Speedway. The school’s website notes that it opened in 2002 and offers two programs with four specialties on a 146,000-square-foot campus with 16 labs and 39 classrooms.
NASCAR Tech’s two program options are automotive technology and computer numerical control (CNC) machining. In the CNC machining program, students learn to manufacture automotive parts. The program encompasses learning to read blueprints, being able to interpret geometric dimensioning and tolerancing, and becoming capable of programming and operating lathes and mills, among other skills.
Additionally, according to NASCAR Tech, its automotive technology program prepares students to maintain and repair imported and domestic automobiles. The program also offers specialized training in which students focus on specific manufacturers, such as Ford, Nissan, and Fiat Chrysler. NASCAR Tech also notes it is the only NASCAR-sanctioned provider of NASCAR-specific training, which includes aerodynamics, fabrication, welding, pit crewing, and more. To date, students in this program have built engines that have won 40 NASCAR races.
SEMA offers educational initiatives in three areas: professional development, career services, and student programs. In the area of professional development, the SEMA website lists several options, including seminars that take place at the annual SEMA Show, which is a trade show for automotive specialty market equipment industry insiders; a collection of videos available through SEMA’s YouTube channel; and a webinar series focused on business operations. In the area of career services, SEMA’s website provides a link to a job search portal for professionals and potential interns where users can learn about career opportunities in specialty automotive equipment businesses.
When it comes to student programs, the SEMA website describes several initiatives. One allows students to attend the SEMA Show, where they can view exhibits from more than 2,400 specialty automotive equipment companies, participate in a young entrepreneur business competition, attend professional development seminars, and take part in networking opportunities, including the Gear Up Girl program for women in the industry. SEMA also notes that it partners with 10 high schools across the country to offer specialized auto shop education and provide the schools with specialty automotive equipment, enabling students to build custom vehicles. Additionally, SEMA offers a scholarship and loan forgiveness program, an initiative offering up to $5,000 in funding for students pursuing an education related to the automotive industry.