Aviation Maintenance instructor sees positive impact program has on students

by Nyla on September 16, 2014 · 10:00 am

Fresno Aircraft Maintenance instructor Don DutraAs an instructor for Fresno’s Aviation Maintenance Technology (AMT) program, Don Dutra has seen every type of student join his Powerplant class. Those eager faces fresh out of high school, career-change seekers, and close-to-retirement adventurers who are finally fulfilling a dream, stare back at him.

“We get some students with zero experience and those who have been in the job market for awhile,” says Mr. Dutra.

No matter what their work background or experience level, the AMT program will have a positive impact. “Even when a student has not really decided that this is the right course for them, it is important that they keep working toward completion; not giving up,” says Dutra. “Maybe for the first time, they learned to finish what they started and to become good at something.”

What seems to be an obstacle to their success, if overcome, “helps graduates to become good employees – no matter what the field – and good civilians,” as Dutra calls it. “Many happy parents and spouses are grateful they finished and look forward to the next chapter.”

And, then there is the ‘natural,’ that person who was born to fly…or keep things flying.

“That student is motivated by being around aircraft; seeing all the different aspects of aviation,” says Dutra, whose program is located at Fresno-Yosemite National airport where students can look out on the runway and see aircraft take off and land daily.

“They don’t get bored seeing that, and they know that one day they’re going to be turning wrenches on similar aircraft,” Don says.

Mr. Dutra’s Powerplant class provides instruction in all facets of aircraft engines. Students are up to their shoulders in huge engines of all imaginable aircraft in the campus’ expansive hangar.

Don describes his teaching style as more ‘coaching’ than professorial. “I like to let my students learn from their own mistakes and then briefly explain what went right and what went wrong,” he says. “A belly flop makes a better point and they retain the information long-term.”

Don Dutra spent some of his 23-years as a Navy jet mechanic teaching ‘mechanics school’ to Navy and Marine recruits. After separation from the military he decided to get the formal education necessary to continue a career as an educator.

He earned his A.S. and B.A. degrees while going to school at night and working full-time for SJVC. He took the FAA exam to get his Inspector Authorization license. Don’s experience allowed him to bypass additional training for the test. He passed on his first try.

“Airframe and Powerplant certified mechanics with an IA endorsement is about the highest honor mechanics can achieve in their career,” says Jason Alves, Academic Dean.

During these years of balancing work, school, homework and home-life with his wife, Mary, Don lived the spread-thin life many of his students experience today. He can tell them first-hand that the end result is worth it.

“I am the very first person in my family to ever earn a college degree,” he says having grown up in Fresno in a family of eleven. But, he had good role models. “My mom worked hard her whole life, and my dad was a junk man who spent his life buying and selling cars, which is where I got my interest in engines.”

Don wants to make sure that his students get every bit of life and career experience he has to give them.

“I want our students to walk away with something that serves them in long-term employment and, hopefully, happiness,” he says. “When they walk away with their license, we know they’ve accomplished what they came here for and we’ve done what we are supposed to do.”

Judging from a long line of grads that stop by the campus, the successes are self-evident. Their claims of “I couldn’t have done it without you,” and “I am amazed and surprised at how much we learn here and apply on the job,” reinforce Don’s confidence in what the AMT program provides.

Toward this end, Don likes to plant seeds of wisdom and offer a little inspiration that might help his students get there from here.

“I tell them that there will always be the stories about the pilot who saved the day or landed the plane safely,” he says. “But, what you never hear about is the mechanic. It’s the mechanic – you – who puts that plane in the air; and it’s only going to stay there if you do your job right.”

Don’s words make a nice landing.

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