NORTH HAVEN — John Bell was finally back getting his hands dirty learning how to fix up a car, now that his college worked to find a way for him to do it safely amidst a pandemic.
Bell, 19, is a former student of Gateway Community College’s Comprehensive Auto Repair & Service (CARS) Program. He stopped taking the courses in the spring when they went online due to COVID-19.
Now, as Gateway pursues a hybrid plan for the fall, Bell was back in class Tuesday. He and 11 other students are taking an in-person General Motors (GM) Internship class taught by Professor and Automotive Department Chair Daniel Fuller.
“This kind of work is impossible to learn just online,” said Bell. “You can’t learn everything from YouTube videos. If classes were online again this semester, I wouldn’t be in this class.”
Like other institutions of higher learning, Gateway is seeking to balance public health with the need for at least some activities to occur in person while the state seeks to stem the spread of COVID-19. They are under direction to keep as much learning as possible remote. So between 90 and 92 percent of Gateway’s classes this fall are being held virtually, according to spokesperson Evie Gard.
Some courses — nursing, manufacturing, automotive — require in-person clinics, Gard said, so the college worked on adjusting them to meet CDC safety guidelines.
Tuesday’s automative class on Gateway’s North Haven campus — pared down from an 18-student to a 12-person max — was a perfect example of one that works best in person — and how, with some adjustments, Gateway is trying to fine-tune the model.
During Tuesday’s GM Internship class the students went through a two-hour lab learning how to drop and reinstall a car’s fuel system. The GM class is made up of second-year students with intermediate automotive experience. In addition to the class, students in the General Motors program must complete hundreds of internship hours.
Each cohort worked on a different car. Cars ranged from mid-sized and full-sized SUVs to trucks and sedans.
After each group successfully removed their car’s fuel tank, Fuller gave them a quick lesson on the different removal methods depending on the car type.
By the end of the lesson each group learned about the car’s fuel tank connectors. They learned how to safely handle a fuel tank, depressurize a fuel system, and replace and inspect fuel tanks.
In cohorts of three, students wore face shields and face masks at all times. For all other lab work safety glasses were required.
At the end of class each student used alcohol to disinfect their shields labeled with their names, and stored the shields in the shop for next time.
The GM Internship course worked with Bell’s (above) morning class schedule. He has a job as a restaurant server in the afternoon. Bell said hopes to work in a small car shop upon completing the automotive program.
During the lab the students took a few 10-minute mask breaks. They opened the shop’s garage and sat outside chatting.
While on break, students talked cars and discussed some of their internships experiences.
Most automotive courses are starting the semester prioritizing their hands-on lessons in case an emergency closing occurring during the semester, Fuller said.
“Simulations and book work help, but to be prepared they have to learn the heavy work and get their hands dirty.”
In the spring, Jailene Paez, 20, struggled to learn from her virtual automotive courses. She instead took on a full-time work schedule at a dealership in West Haven for her internship.
“Online it was like I was learning to tell you what the issue was, but couldn’t fix it for you,” she recalled.
Besides the issue of her face shield fogging up while working, Paez said she prefers to be in-class and taking an “extra five minutes to keep sanitized” over returning to virtual learning.
Paez is one of two female students in the class. She grew up helping her dad work on cars and hopes to teach women’s automotive courses in the future along with working in a dealership.
“Let’s get all these vehicles back together,” Fuller said after the group finished up a mask break.
Paez’s group successfully removed the fuel system of a Chevrolet Colorado. After they reinstalled it, the group’s car had a leak as a result of not reclipping the car’s fuel delivery line properly.
“They wouldn’t be able to learn from mistakes like that if they weren’t able to work out the kinks in-person,” Fuller observed.
The class has a total of 12 students, compared to past semester’s classes of 18 students.
After the groups removed then reconnected the fuel system, Alex Boothroye and Annie Smith used a OBD II unit to connect a computer to the car to run a diagnostics test to verify the fuel system was functioning like normal again. The group checked on the fuel pressure, engine functions, and made sure there were no leaks.
Before the lab, Boothroye learned from a class lecture that fuel systems may be taken out for reasons like a burnt out fuel pump, chewed car wiring, or a busted fuel line.
Fuller’s grading rubric for class labs is based on customer satisfaction. The group’s work must be done safely, with cleanliness, and thoroughly, similar to their dealership work but in class their payment is their grade.
This story from was produced with financial support from Solutions Journalism Network. The story appeared originally online at https://www.newhavenindependent.org/