“I know for a fact that our program is changing lives…Even if a student does not pursue the collision repair field, they will have gained invaluable knowledge through our program. From detailing cars on the weekend to changing their own brakes. The skills learned can last a lifetime.”

Since January 2007, Brian McDonnell has been teaching automotive collision repair and refinishing technology at Great Southern Tier BOCES Coopers Education Center in Painted Post, NY. McDonnell has two Associate’s Degrees, one in Math/Science and the other in Automotive, and has multiple New York State and Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certifications including Professional Certification for Automotive Body Repair in New York State, ASE Master Collision Repair Technician and Certified Collision Estimator. He also holds I-CAE Level 1 Platinum Certifications in Refinishing and Non-structural Repair.

McDonnell’s curriculum emphasizes the importance of both theory and hands-on applications. Students learn all aspects of collision repair including detailing, part replacement, small dent repair, refinishing, welding, plastic repair, and structural alignment. He utilizes technology frequently in class, and has built two mobile lab stations for student access in his shop. McDonnell seeks to reach Gen Z students by regularly showing inspirational quotes, car-related memes, and social media to instill information and build rapport. Due to 50% of his students being on individualized education plans (IEPs), he emphasizes repetition and reflection to create a comfortable, inviting, and positive learning environment.

Students in McDonnell’s class have the opportunity to work in a live shop environment, which helps them learn the importance of deadlines, customer service, and attendance. Most of the hands-on activities consist of students working on their own vehicles, staff vehicles, and even community vehicles. First-year students begin by working on practice panels and school vehicles and then progress onto customer work, using the same equipment, materials, and processes as industry professionals. McDonnell and his teaching assistant are constantly monitoring student progress and holding his students accountable to a high standard to not only meet, but exceed the expectations of customers.

One of his most popular projects is the Recycled Rides program, where a vehicle is donated by an insurance company, parts donated by local auto stores, and much more. Alongside the automotive technology class, they fix the wrecked car, install new parts, and have a great donation ceremony to give the vehicle away to a local family in need of a car for frequent medical visits and treatments.

After taking over the program, students have consistently reached new heights in competitions. Each year, McDonnell’s students place in the top 3 at SkillsUSA New York state competition, including a first place winner in collision repair in 2017 who went on to place 7th in the national competition. One of McDonnell’s female students was selected as the Collision Repair Education Foundation Student of the Year in 2019 and earned an all-expenses paid trip to the SEMA show to accept her award. “The fact that we have had success at the regional, state, and national level of SkillsUSA affirms that our curriculum is current, effective, and relevant,” McDonnell said.

After completion of their two-year program, students have the option to continue their education in college or a technical school, but they can also directly enter the workforce. McDonnell’s program has multiple articulation agreements with local colleges that allow their students to transfer effortlessly into their schools. Students also receive their safety certifications and also take the four entry-level ASE certification tests in Non-Structural Repair, Refinishing, Structural Repair, and Mechanical/Electrical. In addition, they can earn very desirable I-CAR certifications including the 14 series Intro to Collision Repair, Refinish ProLevel 1 Platinum, and Non-Structural ProLevel 1 Platinum.

In 2016, McDonnell was one of three finalists for the first ever SEMA/NACAT Education Foundation Award. In 2019, he was nominated by his fellow Collision Repair instructors from across the country for the Collision Repair Education Foundation Instructor of the Year. McDonnell was previously a finalist for the 2021 and 2022 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence.

“There has been an unfortunate stigma associated with skilled trades work. Sure, it is not always glamorous or enjoyable. But truthfully, what career is? Skilled trades workers have been looked down upon as “less than” those with college educations or white-collar careers. But truth be told, without skilled trades workers the economy would come to a literal stand-still…These aren’t just ‘jobs’ we are talking about, but full-fledged careers that can be physically and emotionally rewarding while providing a healthy lifestyle.”