University Relations and Communications

MSU Billings Auto Tech, Diesel students win top honors in state competition

April 24, 2009



Vern Gagnon, College of Technology, 247-3043
Dan Carter, University Relations, 657-2269


MSU BILLINGS NEWS SERVICES — What can be accomplished in 15 minutes? A pile of e-mails can be negotiated. A fast-food lunch can be nearly consumed and perhaps a short walk in the sunshine can be logged.


""But for Miles Waltner, 15 minutes was all he needed recently to diagnose and plan repairs for a brake system malfunction. In another 15 minutes, he was able to figure out an engine rebuild. In yet another quarter hour, he was able to determine why an air conditioning system was not working correctly and figure out how to get it working again.


Waltner, a second-year automotive technology student at the Montana State University Billings College of Technology, recently used those skills recently to take top honors at the State 2009 SkillsUSA competition.


In early April, 350 secondary and post secondary students from 32 schools around the state traveled to Havre to compete in 31 different contests. Competitions were held in such various categories as architectural drafting, welding, diesel technology, automotive technology, public speaking, and technical computing.


""SkillsUSA is a national organization with 250,000 members across the country that promotes leadership abilities in high school and college students through educational, vocational, civic and social activities. State competition winners from Montana will be eligible to compete at the National SkillsUSA Competition held in Kansas City, Mo., in June.


Waltner and some MSU Billings COT colleagues who are in the diesel technology program dominated the post-secondary competition at the event. Waltner, who is from Dillon, finished first in the automotive service technology and job interview competitions. Josh Keller, from Worland, Wyo., and Matt Norgaard, from Sidney, finished first and third in the diesel equipment technology competition.


Vern Gagnon, automotive technology instructor and chair of the Business, Metal Fabrication and Transportation Technologies department at the COT, said the win by the MSU Billings students marks the second year in a row in which they took the top honors.

“It’s kind of historic,” Gagnon said.


Students in the competition were given a set amount of time to fully understand and accurately diagnose a particular automotive challenge then provide a solution. Students in the in the automotive service technology contests were given 15 minutes and problems at nine different stations. Diesel students were given 20 minutes at seven different stations.


The problems were designed by instructors or specialists that dealt with challenges ranging from brake systems to electrical systems to hydraulics and transmissions. They were judged on workmanship, speed and accuracy.


“Fifteen minutes seems like a lot of time, but it’s not really,” said Waltner, “You’d be working on a station and look up and then you had to be done.”


He said studying and doing lab work at the MSU Billings COT on the latest technology and equipment helped him.


“I didn’t know if I knew everything, but once I could get everything to come into my head and work it out, it was fine,” he said.


Keller and Norgaard both said that hands-on learning with diesel instructors Al Bummer and Pete Bushman paid great dividends in the competition.


For more information on the technology programs at the MSU Billings COT, call 247-3000 or visit the college’s website.


First photo above:
Vern Gagnon, automotive technology instructor at the MSU Billings College of Technology stands with student Miles Waltner with the new alternative fuel car at the COT. Waltner, from Dillon, won first place in a statewide skills competition.


Second photo above:
MSU Billings COT diesel instructor Pete Bushman, foreground, stands with winning diesel technology students Josh Keller, left, and Matt Norgaard.


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