It’s brash. It’s bold. It growls and grumbles like a caged beast in the corner, strapped tight to the floor of the Auto Diesel Technology building.
Equal parts beauty and beast, the 2016 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 is the latest addition to UAA’s fleet of GM-donated classroom cars. “GM has been awful darn good to us for a while now,” said Darrin Marshall, associate professor of GM automotive courses. “This is just the pinnacle.”
Here’s why. The Z06 launches from 0 to 60 in an astounding 3.3 seconds, and boasts 650 horsepower and 650 torque — doubling what that pickup in your driveway can muster. Car and Driver, praising the vehicle “among the world’s best,” called the car “just ridiculous — as in ridiculously fast, ridiculously quick, ridiculously powerful… the Z06 is more than you can handle, even on your best day.”
UAA students are up to that challenge. Though they’ll never drive this curve-hugging street machine, they can still learn what makes this monster tick. And judging by the throng of auto tech students who flock to the car every time an instructor fires up the engine, they’re very much looking forward to digging under the sports car’s legendary hood.
UAA’s top-level fleet and faculty helped the program reach #13 on a national list of best auto tech schools earlier this year.
For one, UAA is one of 52 schools in the nation — and the only one in Alaska — that partner with GM’s Automotive Service Educational Program (ASEP). Auto tech students at UAA can opt for a general track — studying the basics of a variety of manufacturers — or select the ASEP track and take a deep dive into GM vehicles. Both are two-year programs, but ASEP students are required to work at a sponsoring auto shop while in school (those shops are often happy to welcome students, who bring experience on the latest GM models to the garage).
“This is really tomorrow’s technology,” said Jeff Libby, director of the Transportation & Power Division at UAA’s Community & Technical College. “The students in the ASEP program are able to go to the dealerships and know the cars that are coming out, not necessarily what’s even on the lot.”
Essentially, the ASEP program benefits all players — the shops, the students, the school and GM. “It’s a very symbiotic relationship,” Darrin added. “They ship us the cars and the tools, and we give them the future technicians.”
With about 620 GM certifications, Darrin Marshall is a world-class certified by the automaker, and among only 2 percent of GM technicians to hold that title (he’s also the only one in Alaska). In addition, Darrin is one of several UAA faculty members who volunteer extensively with GM ASEP. He formerly chaired the curriculum committee, and recently stepped up to serve as vice president of ASEP’s west region. Those long-term connections have benefitted UAA students, and built UAA’s fleet (the total market value of all GM donations is measurable in millions of dollars).
“We’re pretty lucky to have Darrin here,” added Jeff.
Arrival of an icon
Most vehicles donated by GM are slightly damaged or recently bought back. Though the Corvette fits that description, it’s certainly a rarity. Who would return a car like this? It still has that new car smell! Originally priced around $80,000, this is a vehicle most people only see on the pages of a magazine or the menu of a video game.
The Corvette adds several unique features to the fleet — high-end carbon-ceramic brakes, for example, and an electronically controlled suspension system. But students won’t fully deconstruct this donation. That visceral engine roar is a new selling point for the program.
A UAA grad is designing decals and wraps for the Corvette that promote both UAA’s program, as well as GM ASEP. Jeff and Darrin plan to trailer it to car shows and high school career days, where they fully expect it to draw a slack jawed crowd. “It definitely needs to be an icon around here,” Darrin noted.
Engine screams and teenage dreams
The Corvette got its first spotlight on a recent March Friday, during the annual Skills USA competition (like a spelling bee for mechanics, the competition tests the knowledge of visiting high school mechanics and welders, with winners qualifying for the national competition in Detroit).
During the midday barbecue, Darrin hopped into the low suede seat of the Corvette and punched the accelerator. The car, strapped to a dynamometer (imagine a hamster wheel for cars) spun its screaming tires on parallel barrels, locked in place while the speedometer edged past 100 mph.
The Corvette’s inescapable engine growl pounded off the garage’s cavernous walls as students rushed in from both bays, and even from the outdoor grill. It’s a reaction Darrin and Jeff hope continues for a very long time.
Showing off the car isn’t just a dose of gear-head fun, though. It’s a serious recruitment tool. After spending a day on campus, these high school kids will return to hometowns across the state with a taste of automotive opportunities at UAA, and with the echo of that powerful throttle rattling in their brains.
Written by J. Besl, UAA Office of University Advancement