KENDALLVILLE — Two vocational education teachers could have kept their successful careers in the private sector, but instead wanted to pass on their trades to high school students from around the region.

Mike Prater was a successful auto mechanic at area dealerships and had the opportunity to be a service manager at one dealership, but he chose to teach in Impact Institute’s Automotive Technology program.

Jeannette Rinard was a successful morning radio show host and former TV news reporter, but chose to give up those careers to develop Impact Institute’s Interactive Media program and teach high school students about the media.

Prater and Rinard are two of the 20 instructors in Impact Institute’s 14 career-oriented vocational programs for high school juniors and seniors in Noble, DeKalb, LaGrange, Steuben and Whitley counties. February is National Careers and Technical Education Month, and Impact Institute administrators recognized the contributions of its instructors with a luncheon for them last week.

“Impact is blessed to have a staff that puts students’ success above anything else,” said Stephanie Ross, Impact Institute’s assistant CTE director.

20 years under the hood

Prater, an East Noble graduate, joined the Automotive Technology program when it started, 20 years ago.

“I was looking for something more fulfilling, something where I could work with kids,” he said.

Prater enjoys working with students in the shop on automotive projects. About 55-60 students join the program each school year from the 13 school corporations served by the Impact Institute. Impact Institute’s Automotive Technology program evolved from the high school auto mechanics classes.

“One reason why Impact Institute was created was because the high schools could no longer afford the equipment and technology needed for those classes. In this way the schools in Impact share in the cost of this program,” Prater said.

Like many instructors, Prater undergoes a lot of training during the year to keep up with ever-changing auto technology and to maintain his teaching license.

“It seems like there’s new equipment, new monitoring systems on automobiles every year. The auto tech program very much mirrors what’s going on in the industry,” he said.

Students taking the two-year Automotive Technology program can earn National Automotive Technician’s Education Foundation/Automotive Service Excellence certificates in brakes, electronics, engine performance, heating and air conditioning and suspension and steering. Students also can earn up to 12 hours of dual credit through Ivy Tech.

Auto Tech graduates go into the workforce as auto technicians, go on to Ivy Tech where they can earn an Associate’s Degree while working in a garage, or to other two-year or four-year colleges. Five former Auto Tech students are working at two Kendallville dealerships, according to Prater. Some graduates open their own shops.

Garrett High School senior Nick Sarrazine has spent the past two school years in the Automotive Technology program. He spends half a day in school and half a day in the program. He also works part-time at Ben Davis Ford in Auburn.

Sarrazine worked on automobiles before he joined the program. His mother learned about Impact Institute’s Auto Tech program, they visited the site at 580 Fairview Blvd. in Kendallville, and he enrolled.

Sarrazine will have earned nine different certificates in Automobile Technology when he graduates in June.

“I come from a big family with a lot of cars,” he said. “It has been well worth it, and prepared me for a career.”

Longtime broadcaster teaching media

Rinard spent 25 years in Fort Wayne media market, including nine years in television and 16 years in radio, and it took a toll.

“When I started a family, it was tough doing morning radio. I was sleep-deprived,” she said.

Rinald has a degree in education, and when Impact Institute’s partnering schools decided to start an Interactive Media program four years ago, she couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

Rinard helped develop the program’s curriculum. Interactive Media is designed to teach creative individuals how to improve their skills while helping to develop an eye for design and translate that knowledge into a career. Students learn how to communicate through different media such as video, graphic design, motion graphics and the web.

The program is offered in a building at 221 Angling Road. The building has a classroom setting with rows of large-screen computers for graphic design, a recording studio, a TV studio with an up-to-date control room and an area with a chalkboard wall where students can create free-hand designs with chalk.

Areas of study include music and video recording, editing and mixing, game design and motion graphics, 3-D graphics and animation and branding and marketing through computer graphics.

“A lot of it is hands-on projects giving students as much opportunity to be creative as possible,” she said. “They come into the program with an understanding of the media. They very much interact with each other.”

The program offers dual high school and college credits with Ivy Tech. Program graduates have many career opportunities for post high school study. Interactive Media is a stepping stone to college, according to Rinard.

East Noble senior Mary Reichhart plans to go to college and study graphic design after graduating in June. Reichhart is fascinated with the way animated films are put together, and she credits the Interactive Media program with sparking her interest in this career.

“I want to go into animation, and I’m doing it now,” she said. “I think I have an advantage over other students going to college because of my experiences here.”

Rinard has about 50 students each year from Impact’s 13 partner school corporations. She enjoys stirring the creativity in students.

Sharing their skills

Impact Institute, formerly Four County Vocational Cooperative until 2013, was formed in June 1967 by a joint service agreement between 11 northeastern Indiana school corporations. Two more school corporations have since joined.

“Our instructors are our greatest asset,” said Jim Walmsley, Impact Institute director. “They are experts in their field who have chosen to give back and pass on their knowledge to the next generation.”

Impact Institute provides vocational programs, administers adult education and communicates with the Indiana Department of Education and other state agencies. The 13 school corporations are located in Noble, LaGrange, DeKalb, Steuben and Whitley counties.

To review the 14 vocational programs and enrollment information, visit impactinstitute.net.

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