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Navistar donates 9 trucks to Southern Illinois University’s Dept of Automotive Technology


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The Southern Illinoisan  /  August 25, 2016

The seven commercial tractors and two trucks that Navistar International Corp. has donated to Southern Illinois University are to the automotive technology student what the cadaver is to a medical student.

This major donation to SIU’s Department of Automotive Technology, announced by school and company officials on Thursday morning, represents an opportunity for students to dissect the latest technology hitting the highways. Navistar additionally donated several engines, transmissions, driveline and emission control components. 

The availability of the trucks will allow students hands-on learning in the processes of diagnostic testing and code interpretation to determine where and what a problem is on a truck when things go wrong, said John McCuistion, Navistar's global powertrain and chassis engineering director. 

The most critical element of the availability of the trucks on SIU’s campus is that it provides access to the latest technology so that students are on the cutting edge when they graduate into the workforce. “This is the technology that is really going to be quite beneficial,” he said.

The partnership additionally includes commercial truck and equipment retailer Rush Enterprises Inc., which has donated licenses to Diamond Logic Builder diagnostic software.

Officials from SIU, Navistar International and Rush Enterprises officially celebrated the public-private partnership at an event held Thursday morning at SIU’s expansive Transportation Education Center located on the grounds of the Southern Illinois Airport near Murphysboro.

Dozens of undergraduate automotive technology students attended the gathering. Aaron Weckhorst, a senior from Champaign, said that it’s a boon for students because it allows them to get closer to the advanced technology they will be working with post-graduation in the automotive industry.

“It’s definitely a huge advantage to work on these (tractors and trucks) as opposed to what we used to have,” he said. “The new vehicles are a lot more advanced than the previous one that we had so it’s a big benefit.”

Commercial truck technology is rapidly evolving. Advances are in large part driven by federal government regulations aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving fuel economy standards, McCuistion said.

SIU and Navistar officials did not have an exact dollar figure to attach to the donation, but it is significant, to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars, McCuistion said. Just one truck can sell for upwards of $100,000, though the trucks donated to SIU are not licensed for the roadways.

SIU Chancellor Brad Colwell said students “expect and deserve no less than the best” and that the Department of Automotive Technology is an example of that commitment to excellence. As part of fulfilling that promise to students, Cowell said, “higher education also needs access to the greatest technology, technological advances and business practices.” And he said public-private partnerships such the one between SIU, Navistar International and Rush Enterprises give students that access. 

Colwell also took a moment to note the beauty of the beasts parked behind him as he spoke at the podium — one in particular sporting SIU’s colors. “I love this particular truck behind me. It’s got a great grill, dual-smoke stacks, and it’s maroon in color. And if you don’t mind, I’m going to take it home for just a quick test drive,” he said, laughing. “But it’s probably worth more than my annual salary so I won’t do that.”

The event was attended by four state lawmakers — Sens. Gary Forby and Rep. Brandon Phelps, both Democrats, and Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, and Rep. Terri Bryant, both Republicans.

During his turn at the microphone, Luechtefeld noted the dire financial situation facing the state and the uncertainty that has created at public universities including SIU. Given all the angst, Luechtefeld said it was nice to celebrate “good news.” Looking out at the automotive technology students in the audience, he said they are the people “who will absolutely lead this industry” into the future, and of the department, he said, “this may be as good as it gets” when it comes to educational programs in the field.

Michael Behrmann, chairman of the Department of Automotive Technology, said students graduate from the program well prepared for a variety of jobs in the industry, in both government and the private sector. He said undergraduate students are trained in the latest technology, diagnostic techniques, and development of diagnostic procedures. As well, they are trained in soft skills that include management of technology and personnel, marketing and business practices.

The program is pumping out some of the brightest in the industry, Behrmann said. He also noted that the program further opens opportunities for Southern Illinois to draw employers in the automotive industry to Southern Illinois that may be attracted by the proximity of a well-trained workforce, vast land resources and access to interstates and railways.

Behrmann said he works closely with economic developers to market the region to decision-makers in the industry looking for places to start up or expand.

“This region is primed for future development and expansion of these companies when they’re looking at opportunities and locations,” he said. “Southern Illinois is a prime location for them to consider.”


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