Jones: ‘Don’t pass up this opportunity’
By Don Threm ASU Mid-South
As a Diesel Maintenance Technology student at Mid-South Community College from 2006 to 2008, West Memphis native Mike Jones recognized the value of the innovative training opportunity. The two-time SkillsUSA gold medalist is now helping Arkansas State University Mid-South students maximize their learning experience while serving as an adjunct and volunteer instructor. “I understand how important the program is because I do this for a living,” said Jones, who works as a diesel technician for Old Dominion Freight Line. “The opportunity that was given me to learn a trade while I was in high school was phenomenal.” “That’s one of the reasons I donate my time, to give back because what it turned into for me. I make really good money doing this kind of work. I tell my students all the time, ‘Don’t pass up this opportunity.’ I try to explain to them that what I did as a student in this program helped make me successful.” Pete Selden, ASU Mid-South Associate Vice Chancellor for Workforce Programs, said having someone like Jones to help students excel in the classroom and in competition is “priceless.” “When students can learn first-hand from industry representatives and hear a different voice than that of their teacher, there is much to gain,” Selden said. “Mike stands out in that he is also a former student here and has won the gold medal at the Arkansas State SkillsUSA competition on two different occasions. “Therefore, he knows what it takes to prepare for competition and to be a winner. To be able to pass on this knowledge is something that students will take with them for the rest of their lives. Mike is truly dedicated to this cause.” Jones approached the college about serving as an adjunct instructor because of his experience as a student and as a professional technician. “When I was here as a student, we didn’t have a lot of after-school training because the instructor was new to the program,” he explained. “So I had to do additional research and learn on my own. When I came back as an instructor, I saw the need for a ‘push’ to help these students compete.” “The college’s name is on the line every time we’re involved in a competition. Every time one of our students earns a medal, that name flashes up there. I offered my time to help the students, and the college jumped on it. I have several students who are more than willing to come in and learn as much as they can. I had several students during the fall semester who could go into the field right then. Two in particular did not miss a practice.” Since he’s still in his 20s, Jones said he connects well with his students. “I’m only about 9 or 10 years older than the most of the students, so I still know most of the tricks they’re going to pull. I catch them and say, ‘Yeah, that’s what I used to do when I was in this program.’ I think being younger helps me connect with them, and all of my students tell me they enjoy coming to my class every day.” “Teaching is fun, and I enjoy it. It’s awesome when you’re teaching a student, and the light bulb clicks on and you see that they understand a particular concept. I actually talk about this all the time with my managers and other people I work with. It’s just a whole different experience.” Jones, who works Sunday-Wednesday nights for Old Dominion, taught two diesel tech courses as an adjunct instructor and stayed after class twice a week to help students learn even more. He will continue to assist students during the spring term in preparation for the state SkillsUSA competition in April. As with the instructor role, Jones approached the college about spending additional hours with students interested in going beyond their classroom work. “SkillsUSA is going to test them on everything; the real world is going to test them on everything,” he said. “That’s why I asked for permission to work with students who wanted to learn more after class. Those students who come in here and devote their time are the ones who are going to be the most successful in the field.” “I am donating my time to help train these students, not only in SkillsUSA but in the things they’re going to encounter in the shop, things that we might not have time to cover in class. The extra time gives students the opportunity to hone their skills. That knowledge will help them do better in SkillsUSA and will also help them get better jobs.” Jones became interested in automotive mechanics as a youngster. “I’ve been working on something ever since my dad was working on his vehicle one day and I started handing him wrenches. It just grew from there. I’ve been working on big trucks since I was 14. When I got old enough to get a summer job, I worked as a welding assistant at a fabrication facility in Sunset, Arkansas. The company owned a small fleet of trucks, and I started working on big trucks and enjoyed it. It was easy and came naturally to me.” After completing the Mid-South program and graduating from high school, Jones went to work as a technician for the railroad before moving from the area and opening his own diesel maintenance shop in Heber Springs. He later returned to Crittenden County to work for Ford of West Memphis as an automotive diesel mechanic before pursuing his profession in the trucking industry with Estes Express and Old Dominion. “Big trucks are easier, and trucking companies offer excellent pay and consistent hours,” Jones explained. “It’s a great job for this area because you see how many big trucks come through here.” At Old Dominion, Jones works as a technician and focuses on troubleshooting and diagnostics. “We don’t do a lot of internal engine repair; it’s more the technical side of it,” he explained. “Things that make a technician a good technician are what they want there.” He said he emphasizes those skills to his students. “I teach them what I’ve learned in the field and what Skills emphasizes – being able to do a repair, doing it right, and having integrity and pride in your work. Having pride in your work will take you a long way in this business.” In addition to his regular duties, Jones also finds himself teaching on the job. “A lot of the technicians don’t stay up to date on the newest systems,” he explained. “They are constantly coming to me and asking, ‘Hey, can you help me figure this out?’ ‘What would you look for if you saw this engine code?’ I get that all night long.” Jones and his wife recently became parents for the first time, so being a father has been added to his list of responsibilities. He won’t be quite as involved with the college in an official capacity this spring but will continue to volunteer his services as a SkillsUSA mentor/instructor. For more information about diesel technology or other life-changing learning opportunities at Arkansas State University Mid-South, visit the campus at 2000 West Broadway in West Memphis, call the Enrollment Services Office at (870) 733-6728, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or see the college’s website at http://www.asumidsouth.edu.