Of the students in his auto body repair program at North Lawrence Career Center in Bedford, Kenny Turner said one rose to the top when he was asked about nominations for a statewide honor.

The Student Career and Technical Education Award for Excellence is the state’s highest recognition for a career and technical education student.

The annual awards program, sponsored by the Indiana Department of Education and supported by the Indiana Association of Career and Technical Education Districts, allows for the recognition of student excellence based upon scholarship, leadership, employability and career and technical skill proficiency.

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Turner said Jacob Tormoehlen met the criteria.

The Brownstown Central High School senior is one of 12 career and technical education students statewide being recognized during a public ceremony at 1 p.m. Friday at the Indiana Government Center South Auditorium in Indianapolis. That will be followed by a dessert reception.

Turner said he has several students he could have nominated, but Tormoehlen’s grade-point average, attendance and personality put him above the rest.

“He’s not the only kid I’ve got that works hard,” Turner said. “But everything I ask him to do, he’s nice, good with the other kids and courteous. It’s nice to see a kid with qualities like that.”

Both Turner and the center’s director, Glenn Weil, were excited to learn Tormoehlen was among the award recipients.

“I’m so happy that a student like Jacob can receive that kind of an honor for the skills development and career tech ed. Indiana is really big on career tech ed. They are promoting it a lot, so him being recognized, I think it’s a great thing,” Weil said.

“I think it’s nice, too, because there are a lot of awards out there for kids that are in sports, but this is what these kids are going to be doing for the rest of their lives,” Turner said.

Tormoehlen’s high school transcript and a letter of recommendation were submitted through an online application. The nominations were reviewed by committees with business and industry representatives and career and technical education administrators and teachers.

Being one of 12 selected means a lot to Tormoehlen.

“Knowing Mr. Turner has that much high standards of me, it’s exciting that he believes that I can do stuff like that,” he said. “Then being one of 12 shows that you if put hard work into stuff, it actually pays off. I’m blessed.”

Indiana is a national leader in career and technical education. The graduation rate for those Hoosier students consistently is 6 percent higher than the average for all students, and most career and technical education graduates also earn an industry certification or college credits, according to the IACTED.

That organization currently has 47 member districts representing more than 95 percent of Indiana’s public school corporations.

North Lawrence Career Center, which opened in 1969, is in District 40. It offers 15 programs and serves nearly 800 students from Bedford North Lawrence, Brownstown Central, Medora, Orleans, Mitchell and Shoals high schools, Weil said.

The two-year auto body repair program is designed for students interested in pursuing a career in auto body repair and refinishing.

Students learn and apply the principles and theories of auto body repair and refinishing. Units of study are minor and major dent, spot, fiberglass and plastic repair, glass replacement, welding, panel replacement, custom refinishing, wreck rebuilding, body restorations and more.

During his sophomore year, Tormoehlen toured the center’s classrooms and talked to teachers and students.

That included Turner, who attended the center when he was a student at Medora High School until graduating in 1988. He then worked for T&T Body Shop between Brownstown and Seymour until 2010. He started teaching at Bedford in 1996 before becoming the lead instructor in 1999.

Before the tour, Tormoehlen said he had never considered studying auto body repair.

“I figured I was just going to grow up and be a farm boy, and then I came over here and saw this stuff, and I was like, ‘Man, there is a lot that goes into making a vehicle perfect after a wreck,’” he said.

“Being a farm kid, I want to do something hands-on, and this class is right up my alley,” he said. “I talked to Mr. Turner about it, and it seemed like a good fit.”

Seeing one of his favorite cars, a Chevrolet Nova, in the shop helped, too.

“I am a huge Nova fan,” Tormoehlen said. “I was like, ‘That is a pretty car.’”

During his junior year, he took the beginning class, spending a few hours there in the morning and finishing the day at Brownstown.

This school year, as a student in the advanced class, Tormoehlen starts his day at Brownstown and ends at Bedford.

Turner said the beginning students’ work centers around restoration, while it’s more about collision repair for the advanced class.

After studying basic body work from a book, the beginners use test panels before working on an actual car.

In the advanced class, it’s all hands-on work, and students work on perfecting their craft.

“This is a craft that you have to just learn by doing,” Turner said. “I could get any kid to pass a test out of a book, but it doesn’t mean they can do the work. … This type of work, it’s a skill that you have to develop.”

Both classes involve taking care of actual customers’ orders.

“I run it like a body shop,” Turner said. “Everything out there is customer-owned, and I assign the kids to certain jobs, and they are responsible for it from start to finish. These are students doing this work. I guide them. I help them as little as possible. They like working with their hands pretty well in this class.”

When customers pick up their cars, Turner said he likes for the students to be there.

“It gives them a little bit more ownership, and they feel little bit more responsible when they know there is a face behind the car,” he said.

Tormoehlen said he made a smooth transition from book work to hands-on work.

“(Book work) gives you a little bit better understanding on what you’re going to be doing,” he said. “But the hands-on aspect of it, it was just exciting to go from learning about it in a book to actually doing it and seeing a finished product. It’s just amazing.”

During his junior year, the class spent a lot of time restoring a 1986 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. By the end, basically everything on the car was new, Tormoehlen said.

“Being a first-time student, it was tough, but it was a good responsibility,” he said.

This year, he has helped with several collision repair projects.

“Going from a scratch or a dent, you have multiple processes. You have to grind it down, either pull the dent or fill it, sand that, get it all smooth, prime it, sand it again and then you’re finally ready for paint,” Tormoehlen said. “It’s a multi-step process, but it’s rewarding to be like, ‘Yeah, I fixed that, and now, I can go home and fix it or go to an actual body shop and get a job and fix it.’”

Once students have completed the two-year program, Turner said they will have those skills for the rest of their lives.

“I don’t expect every kid to come through here and be a body man or woman, but they are getting some really good skills that they can take and do something else with it,” he said. “If you don’t do it for a living, at least you can save yourself a lot of money because if they take it seriously, there’s nothing they can’t do to their car.”

After graduating in the spring, Tormoehlen said he plans to attend Ivy Tech Community College in Columbus to pursue an associate degree in agriculture. That would include the business side of agriculture and hands-on work with equipment.

After that, he said he may consider attending a trade school or working at a body shop.

“Dad’s handing me over the hay business, and that’s going to be a full-time job in the summer,” Tormoehlen said. “Full time, it would be cool to get on at a body shop and just continue my education in that, and hopefully, open up my own shop and start there.”

On the Web

For information about North Lawrence Career Center, visit nlcc.nlcs.k12.in.us.

For information about the Indiana Association of Career and Technical Education Districts, visit iacted.org.

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Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.