Parkland Auto Takes on Vegas at SEMA Show

Parkland College Automotive students got to travel earlier this month to Las Vegas, Nevada, where they participated in the student education program at the world-renowned Specialty Equipment Market Association’s (SEMA) Show.

SEMA Show at Las Vegas Convention Center
SEMA Show at Las Vegas Convention Center

Six students and two faculty from Parkland’s Automotive Technology program participated in the five-day, celebrity-filled event. Student sessions took place Nov. 2 at the Las Vegas Convention Center, with a special lunch session for faculty members Nov. 3.

While there were not any technical hands-on activities, students were immersed in the skills required for professional interaction with companies trying to market their parts and services. The highlight for most any instructor is to be able to see students using what they have been exposed to and learned in the classroom in real life.

Parkland students at the SEMA Show (l. to r.): Brad Nelson, AJ Ross, Jeff Havener, Dan Goode, Thomas McClellan, and Jon Snelling
Parkland students at the SEMA Show (l. to r.): Brad Nelson, AJ Ross, Jeff Havener, Dan Goode, Thomas McClellan, and Jon Snelling

At first, students seemed overwhelmed by the experience! One student had never flown before and several students had never seen the Rocky Mountains. Only one had seen the lights of Las Vegas before. We exposed them to more than one million square feet of automotive products and services!

By the end of each day, however, it was amazing to listen to what our students were learning about the companies. Each of them provided examples of how they interacted with different companies and how they were able to adapt their approach and strategy in each experience based on what they were learning back home. As I walked the show floor looking for my own educational experience, several vendors recognized our Parkland Motorsport shirts and would say, “Your students were by here earlier—very impressive.” This is just another example of interaction you cannot get in the classroom.

Celebrities.  After current SEMA president Doug Evans addressed the more than 500 students in attendance Monday, TV personality, metal fabricator, and painter Jessi Combs also spoke. Jessi talked about how her passion for the industry has led to so many different and amazing experiences. She was also a part of the “Gear Up Girl’ event held later that day targeted specifically to women in the automotive industry. Later, there was Q&A with Doug and Jessi about SEMA and careers in the aftermarket industry. During the Tuesday luncheon, Doug addressed the faculty group along with Matt Crawford, author of the best-selling book Shop Class as Soul Craft.  About 100 school faculty and administrators were present.

Our students’ comments about SEMA:
“I had no idea there were so many different companies selling parts.”
“It’s so cool that these companies are interested in us even though we are just automotive students.” 

“I’m pretty sure I would have a job with this company if I moved to Texas.”
“I am having so much fun, I feel like I must be doing something wrong!”
“I can’t believe there were companies that knew about our drag car and training program.” 
“They said they remembered being at our school on the [Hot Rod Magazine] Power Tour stop.” 
“We get to come back next year, right?”

While our focus from this experience was on developing career paths for motorsport students, the option to participate was open to any students who could pay their portion of the trip (airfare, meals and boarding), which came to about $400. Plus, students had to be in good academic standing so they could miss other classes. Most had to take off work to participate over the five days.

…. And yes, we plan to go again in the future.

SEMAstudents2

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