When local organizations invest scholarship funds in a student, it’s nice to hear if those investments are sound. And Liberty Bell High School Class of 2021 student Lukas Whatley, who is enrolled at the Universal Technical Institute (UTI) in Avondale, Arizona, is delivering results.
Lukas is involved in an intensive technical degree program focused on auto mechanics. With classes in three-week blocks — such as diesel engines, suspension systems, automatic transmissions, etc. — it’s a fast-paced program, with three hours a day of hands-on practice and four hours a day of class time, five days/week. When he’s finished, he’ll be certified to work on engines “from leaf blowers to giant cranes and trucks,” says his dad: artist, entrepreneur, mechanic and former shop/construction teacher Trent Whatley.
UTI is s also a diverse program, with students from all over the country with a wide range of ages and backgrounds. Some students are, like Lukas, recent high school graduates. Others are military 30-somethings just back from tours overseas.
At the end of each three-week block, UTI gives out awards based on grades in attendance, professionalism, content and practical skills. The awards don’t just go to the top students in each class — they only go to the top student if all of their grades are above 95%. So far, Lukas has received these awards in four of the eight classes he has completed.
“Lukas has found his place,” Trent says. “This kid was never really all that excited about school before. Now he jumps out of bed to get to class at 6:30 a.m. each day. He wants to get straight As. He loves it.”
Apples often don’t fall far from the tree, and part of Lukas’ success may be genetics and upbringing. Both he and Trent share an ability to see pieces and visualize how they fit into the big picture. “Lukas can see a pile of parts and envision what they make when they’re put together,” Trent says.
Trent and his wife, nurse Lisa Whatley, also credit the local scholarships Lukas received with some of his success. “He got very generous gifts from the Methow Valley Education Foundation, Kiwanis and the Methow Valley Snowmobile Association,” Trent says. “That support made it possible for him to attend UTI.”
No slouch of a technical tinkerer himself, Trent has recently been involved in the DIY Hero contest, where he made it through three rounds of voting. People enter the DIY Hero contest and are assigned into different groups, where popular votes through social media advance them to the next levels of competition. Trent made it from the initial 12,800 entries into the final 250, but didn’t quite get the votes needed to advance to the final stages; he finished second in his group.
Although he didn’t win the $25,000 prize, Trent says it was an entertaining experience. “And I saw how social media networking results in votes,” he says. “I haven’t spent a lot of time building my social media presence — I prefer just making my things. I’ve always just had word-of-mouth marketing. But it’s a new era of advertising. I’m going to need to ramp up my social media savvy if I want to expand my business [Jack OATs V8 Garage].”
And with that, we ended the call. Trent had a disassembled engine all spread out over his shop, and some kids were coming over later to figure out how to put it back together.