At a Glance
Students at Mon Valley Career and Technology Center customized a 2001 Jeep Wrangler, which was donated by the Specialty Equipment Marketing Association (SEMA) High School Vehicle Build Program. The students’ work captured first place at the Autorama World of Wheels car show in Pittsburgh, which took place in January 2022.
Students at Mon Valley Career and Technical Center (MVCTC ) are involved in a vehicle build program that was made available to select schools throughout the country. The Specialty Equipment Marketing Association (SEMA) High School Vehicle Build Program connects high school automotive shop classes with specialty-equipment manufacturers’ products so they can build one-of-a-kind customized vehicles.
The Mon Valley team, under the leadership of Director Neil Henehan, sought to get students excited and passionate about their chosen career and technical field after the effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic. That passion and excitement, plus the students’ skills, manifested itself at the recent Autorama World of Wheels car show at the David Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh in January of 2022. “Wolfpack Customs,” as the students are tabbed in reference to the school’s mascot, collected a first-place plaque for their work on a 2001 Jeep Wrangler TJ donated by SEMA, as well as a number of other awards.
Mon Valley Career and Technical Center hosts students from the California, Charleroi, Bentworth, Beth-Center, Ringgold, Monessen and Belle Vernon school districts. It was one of ten schools throughout the country selected for the SEMA program. The program funded by SEMA offers students real-world, hands-on auto-tech skills by engaging them in the accessorizing and customization lifestyle.
“Our goals here with that program are to introduce students to a very wide variety of things within the industry,” explained Chris Mance, automotive technology instructor. Mance said the selection process involved three rounds of interviews as well as an essay. “There were well over a couple thousand schools that applied,” Mance said. “To be associated with SEMA is like the pinnacle of the automotive world. It’s a cool thing to be one of 10 schools in the country to be associated with that.”
As the customization work on vehicles continued, students in the welding and multimedia program joined in on the project with the automotive students. “This is a way we get kids meeting kids, working together, simulating the workplace,” Henehan said. “This is just one of the ways we’re using our programs to inspire our kids.”
The Jeep Wrangler was one of two vehicles the school could choose to do a custom build through SEMA. The other was a third-generation Toyota 4runner. MVCTC applied for the Jeep Wrangler, which SEMA shipped to the school at no charge. SEMA then worked with local vendors to have parts donated to the school. “We did a 100% full nut and bolt restoration,” Mance said. “In the automotive industry, which would be six months to a year build. We were attempting to do that in 45 days.”
Students were given different assignments and a project manager was selected for the morning and afternoon classes. “You’re doing a massive amount of work in a very short time frame,” Mance said. “The students learned a ton through that process. It was no longer school, it was reality.”
Two busloads of MVCTC students were taken to the World of Wheels show. “We wanted to see what we could do this year, because part of what we could bring was this build from the SEMA program, which we’ve had in our building since just prior to the pandemic,” Henehan said. The students enjoyed their time at World of Wheels. “Our display turned out awesome,” Veatch added. “There were velvet ropes all the way across. It was good to hear all the compliments from people walking past.”
Other awards captured by “Customs Wolfpack” for their work were: 2014 PolarisRZR170 – first place; 1971 Sears Minibike – first place; 2017 Honda Rukus –third place; 1966 Cub Cadet 102 – third place; 1975 John Deere 100 – second place; 2009 Honda Metropolitan – second Place; and 1991 Volkswagen Cabriolet – Honorable Mention.
“These students from the Mon Valley get the chance to participate in something that is nationwide,” Henehan said. “They can remember this for the rest of their lives. I’m really very, very proud of our program and our students.”
The initiative of the school leadership team and automotive instructor to engage students in the vehicle build program and the support they received through SEMA and the CTC provided students with a life-changing, real-world experience they are unlikely to forget. For more information, please contact instructor Chris Mance.
Neil Henehan, Director
Chris Mance, Automotive Technology Instructor