Winona Daily News Campus Connection, May 15, 2022
MSC Southeast's Auto Body Collision Tech instructor Tom Brandt turns over the keys to the shop to former student, Brandon Boynton
By Katryn Conlin for the Winona Daily News
After 36 years of teaching Auto Body Collision Technology at Minnesota State College Southeast in Winona, Tom Brandt is handing over the keys to the college's auto body shop at the end of Spring semester.
Brandon Boynton, who graduated from Tom's program in 2014, is the new Auto Body instructor. For the past year has been teaching along with Tom, learning the tools of the trade from his former teacher.
"I knew that the best way to have a smooth transition when I retired would be for the college to make a commitment for one year to onboard a new instructor," said Tom. "That the hiring committee selected a past graduate of the program was extra special for me."
Brandon said that back in 2013, he was in the very first class to roll their toolboxes from the main building down to the then brand-new Transportation Center. Even when he was a student that year, Brandon had in mind returning to teach someday.
"I always wanted to do a little bit more than be a technician or own my own shop. Tom and my high school teachers inspired me to want teach as a profession," said Brandon. "I want to make a difference in people's lives."
Every student is different
Tom and Brandon respect that every student has a unique background, psychology, and learning style.
Tom said, "When you've got students that you're seeing all day long on a regular basis, oftentimes they are looking for direction on things that are not just auto body. Sometimes you're a bit of a psychologist."
"You're more than just a teacher here," Brandon agreed. "Sometimes you're a life coach and other times you're just the guy swinging a hammer to show them how."
Over the years, both Tom and Brandon have seen huge changes in the auto body collision technology industry.
"For example, we teach aluminum repair and aluminum welding now. We weren't doing that when Brandon was a student," said Tom.
Out on the shop floor, Tom pointed out a Porsche sports car and a heavily damaged Porsche race car. He explained that both cars are a combination of steel body panels and aluminum structures.
"The street variants of those cars are just like the race cars. That is part of the reason for some of our race car projects, because otherwise we couldn't get $100,000-plus cars to work on!"
Another critical change in the industry is the onset of advanced driver assistance systems like adaptive cruise control and lane change warning signals. Tom explained that there can be up to 100 computers on board a car to run these systems.
"There are cameras, radars, and things like that that have to be recalibrated following any repair," he said. "If anything can be touched physically during a collision, it can be an issue that needs to be dealt with during collision repairs."
Brandon noted the development of the electric vehicle-specific collision repair industry. "All-electric is going to be a mainstay. Tesla has a collision center in the Twin Cities now, and one of our graduates this year has already accepted a job there."
Technology at their fingertips
Not only have the cars changed, today's students are very different than when Tom first started teaching in 1986.
"These learners have grown up with technology at their fingertips. If I tell them we need to go over the computer to do something, they'll have it done on their phone before we even get to the computer!" he said.
As the college year draws to a close, Brandon Boynton reflected on a year spent working side by side with his former instructor.
"Tom's always been an inspiration to me. He's worked all of his career to build a premier Auto Body Program at Southeast," Brandon said. "I've met countless past students of his and each of them have nothing but praise for Tom during their time in the program. The quality of instruction has been second to none and that's something I plan to continue and build on in the future."
Tom Brandt said he will miss working with the students who really want to succeed. "The rest of the world kind of shuts down while you're in the lab working with those students. And it's a really a good feeling. I know I'll miss it."
For more information about Auto Body Collision Technology at MSC Southeast, contact Admissions Representative Chris Cook at 507-453-2410 or Christopher.Cook@southeastmn.edu.