VESTABURG — Three Vestaburg High School graduates — Shelby Recker, Jeremy Keyton and Jason Braman — are entering fields that have become highly technical. They are headed to the University of Northwest Ohio (UNOH) together.
Shelby will study diesel technology, while Jason and Jeremy will enter the agricultural equipment technology program.
The trio spent the last two years in the Diesel and Equipment Technology program under instructor Zeb Niehof at the Montcalm Area Career Center in Sidney. This program focused on small engine operation and service and repair of diesel and gas engines. It not only introduced them to their chosen career path, but prepared them for the state of Michigan mechanic’s certification in diesel and gas engines — a test Jason and Jeremy have already passed.
Today’s machines require more than the crank of a wrench to repair, according to Niehof. Components that were once purely mechanical are now controlled electronically or by a computer. These advancements require trained technicians to perform what used to be simple, do-it-yourself maintenance.
“Some cars have up to 30 computers that all interconnect and communicate back and forth,” Niehof said. “Anytime a car, a tractor or a semi goes into a dealership, the first thing they do is plug a computer into it and scan it. It’s a very complex thing.”
Niehof believes the job opportunities in diesel technology are endless.
“The world runs off it (diesel power),” he said. “Anything we eat, wear or consume has been touched by a semi. Apprenticeships in this field have become a thing of the past. Employers want the training. I highly encourage my students to get as much education as possible, an associate’s degree at the very minimum.”
A minority in the field
As a woman, Shelby knows she’s in the minority in the diesel technology program. But this didn’t stop her from following her dream. She’s most comfortable in blue jeans, a T-shirt and work boots at the Montcalm Area Career Center among her male counterparts.
“As the only girl out of 19, the guys have done an excellent job of embracing her and treating her like one of the guys,” Niehof said. “It’s been a very good blend.”
Shelby’s father is a small engine mechanic and her uncle owns a repair shop in Mount Pleasant. She remembers working with her father to rebuild her first dirt bike when she was 6 years old.
“We were both raised around dirt bikes and used to race ’em and stuff like that,” Shelby said. “My dad went to all my races. I’ve learned the majority of the stuff I know from him.”
Shelby had many responsibilities during high school. She worked, went to school and cared for her terminally ill stepmother, who passed away last year. She began working at McDonald’s in Mount Pleasant as soon as she could drive. When she turned 18 last October, she switched to third shift (10 p.m. to 6 a.m.) and increased her hours to 40 each week.
Shelby was frequently absent from school during her stepmother’s illness. She credits Niehof for his hands-on application to help explain the lessons she missed.
“Sometimes, I learn better if I go out and just do it, rather than from a textbook,” she said.
Shelby wants to travel in the course of her career and says getting a commercial driver’s license (CDL) will allow her to accomplish this.
“I want to have something to fall back on,” Shelby said. “I’ll have my CDL and can drive truck to make extra money. The one thing my stepmom made me promise was that I’d make something of myself.”
Jason is a third generation farmer. His family’s 700-head, 1,000-acre dairy farm south of Vestaburg is where he learned to love anything and everything mechanical.
His parents, Jim and Diane Braman, are happy Jason is going to college and look forward to the experience he’ll eventually bring back to the farm.
Jason did field work and wanted to be around the tractors and equipment since he was a small boy, according to Diane.
“He never wanted much to do with milking the cows, but fed calves and liked to ride the tractors and take care of equipment,” she said. “It’s hard to say what he’s going to do after college. It’s too early to tell.”
The Braman family takes pride in being a tight-knit family with a strong work ethic. His brother and sister both farm, and Jason hopes to return to the family farm after graduating from college.
“Ever since I was little I’ve been around tractors and equipment,” Jason said. “I’ll probably go back to the farm and work on equipment there and maybe open a shop. I’d like to be able to fix some of the old tractors we have on the farm.”
At this point, Jason isn’t sure how far he’ll go with his schooling at UNOH, but plans to get at least an associate degree.
Following his brother’s footsteps
Jeremy comes from a long line of mechanically inclined relatives. His grandfather was a mechanic and his great-grandfather was a machinist. Their influences, as well as life on the farm where he lives in Vestaburg, have provided a solid foundation in agricultural technology.
Jeremy is always tinkering around with machinery and equipment and now has his own diesel engine — a 2000 Dodge diesel pickup — to work on.
“I learn faster through hands-on work,” Jeremy said. “I like running tractors quite a bit and maintaining them. I’d like to work for a potato farmer in their shop and then drive their trucks and tractors, and what not, when they need it.”
Jeremy will start by earning an associate degree in agricultural technology program at UNOH and eventually will study alternative fuels. He’s familiar with the university and feels comfortable about his choice to go there, especially since his brother has firsthand experience as a UNOH alumnus.
“My brother graduated there a year ago,” Jeremy said. “He went for the same thing I am. He may possibly go for a few more classes. We may get an apartment together eventually.”
Jeremy will milk cows on Jason’s farm until they leave for college in August.
“All three students are very capable of achieving great things,” Niehof said. “Their work ethic is good. They are very knowledgeable and step up and do the hard jobs. As individuals, they’ll make great employees someday, and I’d gladly hire all three of them. Their success is going to be up to them on what they want to do or where they want to go.”