Elective Course Sparks New Passion
by April Cunningham
School district’s offerings change student’s career dreams.
These days educational expectations tend to follow a certain route: preschool, elementary, middle school, high school and then college. In the Lewisville Independent School District, the promise to students is to equip them with the tools necessary to enjoy thriving, productive lives in a future they create, whether a student’s path after high school graduation is college or entry into the global marketplace.
Meet Ashley Baltmanis. When Ashley entered her senior year at Flower Mound High School, she seemed to have her post-high school plans all figured out. After all, her dream since kindergarten was to be a doctor. She was going to follow in her parents’ footsteps and attend Texas A&M University, majoring in biomedical sciences before heading to medical school. Ashley graduated from Flower Mound High School in June 2018, but she didn’t enroll in Texas A&M that fall. Instead, Ashley became Park Place Mercedes-Benz dealership’s first technician to be hired at the age of 18 and the first-ever to be hired right out of high school as a technician trainee. And, in May 2019, Ashley graduated top of her class from the prestigious Mercedes-Benz DRIVE program.
But how did this even happen?
It all started thanks to a couple automotive technology classes at LISD’s Career Center East, now known as Technology, Exploration and Career Center East (TECC-E) in Lewisville, Texas.
“When I first got my learner’s permit and drove for the first time, I realized I knew nothing about a car,” Ashley said. “So, I took my mom’s laptop into the garage, and started looking up all the different parts of a car for hours, and thought it was absolutely amazing how cars work. My dad taught me years before how to ride dirt bikes and the importance of taking care of your vehicles, so I had always been around that.”
The interest in cars had been there, but when Ashley filled out her schedule for senior year, she selected Auto Tech I and Health Science. Auto Tech I ended up being her first semester course, and after falling in love with the program, she decided against taking Heath Science and instead enrolled in Auto Tech II for the second semester. She described her experience in TECC-E’s automotive technology program as “incredible.”
“I came into the program wanting to learn the basics of a car, so when I would take it to a repair shop, I would know if they were trying to rip me off,” Ashley said. “Mr. Emery, who was my teacher for Auto Tech I, was the person who made me want to keep doing this. Everything from the stories he would tell us from when he would work at the dealership to how he built and encouraged my passion to pursue this career path.
“Mr. Sutton was my teacher for Auto Tech II, and I have him to thank for getting me my job interview with Mercedes-Benz. I originally wanted to go to Waco for the Lexus training program, T-Ten at TSTC, Texas State Technical College. After my interview, Mercedes called him that day and said they wanted another interview. He went with me to the dealership the next day where they offered me a job that changed my life.”
Ashley’s dreams changed because of the TECC-E automotive technology program, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“All through high school I was taking AP (Advanced Placement) classes, and never really gave myself a break to think about what would make me happy,” Ashley said. “I loved school, but the second semester of senior year, I thought, ‘Do I really want to do this for another six or eight years before I am happy where I’m at?’ When I really thought about it and talked with my parents, I poured myself into the automotive field. I was taking every learning opportunity available to me because this was something that I knew I could be happy doing. And I am, I love every moment of it.”
Initially, the Baltmanis family felt wary about Ashley’s decision to, for the time being, forgo college and pursue an automotive career. Both her parents received their undergraduate degrees from Texas A&M and her mother Beth also earned her master’s degree from the university. Generally speaking, it would make sense for Ashley to follow the same path as her parents, but she broke the mold.
“Our family definitely was shocked and still is, that she isn’t attending college,” Beth said. “The family still asks if she is going to start taking college classes. At first, we had reservations, however, Ashley did obtain almost 20 college credits through AP classes at Flower Mound High School and dual credit classes at NCTC. She intends to get a college degree in the future to further her career in the automotive industry. She loves learning about vehicles and has a great passion for the industry.”
Ashley didn’t just break tradition by not pursuing the standard college route. She also broke stereotypical barriers that, perhaps unfairly, surround the automotive industry.
“She was the only female in the class, but she quickly overcame the stereotype that girls are not mechanically-inclined and soon became the top of the class and made us very proud,” her father Peter said.
Even more impressive, Ashley was Mercedes-Benz DRIVE’s first student to be accepted into the program without any postsecondary college or technical school experience.
“In order to get into the Mercedes-Benz DRIVE program, you have to pass a written test and a hands-on test,” said TECC-E Auto Tech I teacher Doug Emery. “Students who have completed postsecondary automotive programs have taken these tests and failed. For Ashley to pass the written and hands-on tests without that experience and then complete the program top of her class is amazing.”
Travis Sutton, former TECC-E Auto Tech II teacher, is also amazed by Ashley’s accomplishments and said this opens doors for other LISD students.
“Ashley was the first former LISD student to attend the Mercedes-Benz DRIVE program, and she is the first person ever to attend straight out of high school,” Sutton said. “DRIVE students prior to Ashley have been required to have a two-year technical school degree or certificate before attending DRIVE. Being top of the class, along with being the first student without postsecondary education is an amazing achievement for her, and it paves the way for future LISD students to have the same opportunity available.”
Because of students like Ashley and instructors such as Emery and the new Auto Tech instructor Brad Dahlgren, the district’s automotive technology program is thriving – growing every year.
“Three years ago, we had only two students in the practicum course who had internships,” Emery said. “Today, we currently have 21 students with paid internships at different dealerships such as Park Place Mercedes/Lexus/Porsche/Jaguar Land Rover, Sewell Cadillac, Classic BMW and Five Star Ford.”
Sutton added, “Auto Tech is not just a course to learn about cars, it is a course that presents pathways to industry careers. Students leave here with an understanding of vehicle operational and functional theory, hands-on maintenance practices, industry certifications, and employability skills. We also do lessons on résumé writing, cover letters, interview skills, college opportunities, student loans, and financial responsibility. These lessons prepare all of our students for careers, even if the automotive industry is not their ultimate goal.”
Ashley agreed that the transferable skills she learned in the program will help her future career.
“I plan on going back to college either while still working at the dealership or going full-time at school,” she said. “I want to become a master technician for Mercedes and eventually want to move up in Mercedes. I would really love to be a talent scout for technicians, recruiting and interviewing them, or to be working for Mercedes corporate in the department for the DRIVE school curriculum. I know I want to be somewhere where I can have a part in helping change the stereotypical view of who is working in the automotive industry.”
And, although an automotive career wasn’t exactly the dream Ashley’s parents had envisioned for her, Beth and Peter Baltmanis are proud of the path she chose and how she got there. They are also grateful for the opportunities LISD’s Career and Technical Education department has provided their family.
“Our daughter, who was an AP student and accepted to universities, chose a different path, which most people in our socioeconomic class do not approve of,” Beth said. “Ashley’s younger brother, Spencer, is one of the 20 students accepted in LISD’s firefighting program. I think there is a stigma in our society that they must get a college degree. However, we are so proud of both of them for pursuing these special programs offered. Our family has become the poster family for such classes offered and we couldn’t be more grateful to LISD for offering such beneficial classes.”