WALLENPAUPACK -  Success is a result of hard work. That is a concept Wallenpaupack seniors Evan Sennefelder and Andrew Stuart knew before earning the title of best technicians in the country a few weeks ago. But, it was reiterated after they spent hours on end, training with their instructor, Dr. Mark “Doc” Watson for the competition that put them against state champions from across the country. 
      

Prior to the national competition, the young technicians had to earn that opportunity in class, by placing the highest on a test. From there, they presented their skills against teams from all of Pennsylvania.

State level first

After winning the state competition, being the best in the state was “pretty cool,” said Sennefelder. Both teens said they were confident going into the national competition, because of Watson’s commitment and assistance from technicians he recruited, who are currently in the field. Despite all of the work, in the end Stuart said, “it was so rewarding.” 


Readying for the national competition, that Sennefelder said was “more involved” because of the workstations they had to train for. All total, the students had three hours to complete 10 workstations. Then, they had to find and fix 15 issues that were preventing a 2018 Chevy Malibu from starting. Working on the car, that Stuart said was “more in-depth.” Both teens preferred working on the car, but Stuart said the car was “more intimidating” since they weren’t certain what the problems were. 


Friends since freshmen year, going into the competition, the young technicians figured because of Sennefelder’s liking of the mechanical aspect of the work, he would get the car started. Whereas Stuart enjoys the pre-delivery inspection (PDI). So, Sennefelder addressed the bugs that were stopping the car from starting. The strategy worked, Sennefelder said, because Stuart is good with details and was familiar with the computer program from a job he has outside of school. 


The 2018 Chevy Malibu, Sennefelder called “nice” because of its “simple motor.” It was easier, Stuart explained because it was “smaller.” The number of computers, howvever, did make work “crazy,” Sennefelder noted.

Preparation

To ready for the car, Watson borrowed a car from Hessler Chevrolet in Scranton. Practicing on that car, Sennefelder said was “everything” because they had to get familiar with all aspects of the vehicle. 


In the three hours, the technicians found each of the 15 issues that prevented the car from starting. The reason, Stuart said, was that they worked well together, as they communicated and assisted each other when necessary. Plus, because of their continual training, they both knew what they were doing and they actually fixed the car with 30 minutes remaining. Some of the issues, Sennefelder said, were tricky, but everything “fell into place” as they worked and “went through the motions.” 


While they trained, Watson simulated the contest by creating his own “bugs” that made the car not work. Those bugs were important, because some were nearly identical at the competition. Sennefelder called Watson the “best” instructor in the “nation” because he did everything in his power to prepare them. Before it all started, Watson told them if they committed the time, it would be worth it in the end. That, they said, has been true. 


All that has followed since they won, Sennefelder said has been “crazy.” Stuart said it has been “amazing”  since they competed against the best in the country. Watson said the resources available in the school, don’t compare to what is available to the students from career centers, where there’s federal funding and have “top-notch” tools. In reality it comes down to the time and effort one was willing to commit. Stuart said that also having “a Doc Watson” was key. Watson quickly responded that it wasn’t him; instead it was the students who worked tirelessly because everything “comes down to effort and hard work.”

Recruiting help from professionals in the field, that Sennefelder felt gave the teens a “big advantage” as they offered additional knowledge and resources. Joe Ross, who works at Wayne County Ford, Stuart said, “went above and beyond” as he helped them. 


Throughout the competition, the students said they felt confident as they worked. Stuart did say some workstations they were more confident in than others. The first station where they had to solder wires, presented a challenge because the pen didn’t work. 


Before their names were called, both students said they felt good about their work and as a result, they expected to place in the top five. Sennefelder said they didn’t focus on having to go against the top technicians from across the country.

Instead, Stuart said the team was aware of how much time they had invested, having committed 140 hours over a course of three months, snow days included as Watson sent them work via the internet.  

Names were called

When their names were called, that Stuart said was “crazy.”  Sennefelder said he was shocked, but it was simply “amazing.” Feeling so proud of what they have achieved, the reality is that the young technicians must “stay humble” because there is still a lot to learn as he continues to work and the professionals he works with continue to teach him. The professionals he works with too, Stuart said have taught him an “insane amount of stuff” because his experience doesn’t compare to theirs. 


The young technicians completed the car in two and a half hours. The remaining half hour was used to check and double check their paperwork because if that was wrong, credit wouldn’t have been given. In that time, Stuart said there were things he actually improved. 

At the competition, Stuart described the atmosphere as “friendly but tense” as each team wanted to win. The teams were lined in rows, side by side, near each other. With this setup, they could hear their opponents’ cars starting. Because they had to focus on their task, Sennefelder said they just “blocked them out.” Their confidence was “boosted,” Stuart said because they were the second team to start their car since they were “so prepared” and able to pace themselves.

Time well spent

After the two competitions, of everything they encountered, both students said giving up their time was the most challenging part of it all. Having become the top technicians in the country, Stuart said shows that the “time you put in, pays off.” 


Sennefelder likes working on cars, because he is working with his hands and diagnosing the problem, later solving a problem. For Stuart he likes figuring out the problem because there’s always a challenge. 


To be a good technician, both teens said having patience is essential. Sennefelder explained that, to fix the problem, one must stay focused and be patient so they can then go through the necessary steps. Stuart said a technician must work hard and be dedicated to the work. 

Just a few weeks before graduating and starting the next chapter of their lives, the young technicians won full scholarships and tools they will someday need. Stuart wants to be a technician for heavy equipment, traveling to job sites to fix bulldozers and such equipment because the projects change and he would be able to travel. Sennefelder would like to work on tractor-trailers and diesel trucks because they are “cool” and will take the job to “another level” he said.

Second time in three years

In the district’s eight years participating in the national competition, this was the second time a team won. The first team won in 2015. This was not, however, the first time a district has won the national competition more then once, said Carole Rogner who is the professional development coordinator from the competition. Both teams, Watson said worked hard. Winning nationals again, that was a surprise because of the teams they were against from California, Florida and Detroit, which is the “auto capital of the country.”

Winning has been “unbelievable,” but it’s been possible because everything comes down to the teams who work the hardest. Sennefelder and Stuart, Watson said, worked to develop their skills and so, they were able to compete against the best in the country, which was “pretty cool.”

Students winning this competition, has changed the lives of many kids because younger students want to be next and so, they learn the importance of working hard since everyone is given the same opportunity to become the two who will compete said Watson. Having this system, Watson believes “builds enthusiasm” as students see the success and want to be a part of it. In addition, the resources the school has received such as a tire machine that cost about $18,000, benefits all of the students. While the district is very supportive of the automotive program, the “big ticket” items aren’t easy to get, so the contest has been a blessing. Everything though, is “about the kids” as all of the prizes and resources will help them become “better prepared.”

Beaming as he spoke with The News Eagle, Watson said winning again was amazing, but the reality is, he’ll do what he can to prepare the students because he knows it can change their lives. Stuart and Sennefelder now will be going to college on full scholarships and ready to enter the workforce with tools they likely would not otherwise have. Readying students for this industry is necessary, because of the shortage of technicians in the country. If educators don’t work now to teach students what they need to know, then cars won’t be fixed, which is a problem since people need to get places, so the “value of this industry is huge.”