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Toby Kleffman started his automotive career while he was a student in the C4 Columbus Area Career Connection program.
The skills he learned helped him win a national award in the C4 automotive program and become a mechanic for Dave Burt auto sales in 1995, while still at Columbus North High School. Kleffman made that his career after graduating from North in 1996.
He stayed at Dave Burt until 2009, when he and fellow employee Harold Hutchison started a Columbus auto service company called HK Auto/Truck Services, 420 Jonesville Road, where Kleffman still keeps his hands dirty as a mechanic.
Kleffman, 34, said the C4 automotive program is perhaps the best in the state, because it provided him with on-the-job experience that duplicated what he would encounter professionally.
The success of the career and technical education program, based primarily at Columbus North High School, has been demonstrated in multiple ways. Some students have applied the skills they learned to achieve successful careers in their fields. Others have returned to teach in the C4 program and share the knowledge they’ve gained.
A study of the Class of 2011 showed that 55 percent of C4 students were continuing to develop their C4 specialties in postsecondary institutions.
“It’s clear that C4 is making a difference in people’s lives,” said Teresa Weichman, counselor for the program. “You can see it in their success.”
Ryan Green, 23, a 2008 North graduate who was in C4’s Computer Aid Design and Project Lead the Way engineering programs, enrolled in C4’s Student to Work program while he was a junior. He landed a job at Cummins Inc., where he continues to work today as a developer of engine components in its advanced engineering, research and technology division.
Green earned an associate’s degree in mechanical engineering technology from the Purdue College of Technology and is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in the same field.
C4 served as a launching pad, and Green hopes to advance at Cummins and earn more money for his family.
“C4 gave me a really strong foothold into what engineering actually is and what I can expect,” Green said. “I don’t think I could have been where I am now if not for C4.”
Some C4 students were so appreciative of the program that they returned as C4 teachers to work with the next generation of students.
Carrie Douglas, who graduated in 1992 from East, has been C4’s culinary arts instructor for six years. She said that even in high school, she always knew she wanted to be a C4 teacher.
Douglas chose a roundabout path to get there. She worked as a chef until 1998 at a Boston restaurant, until 2002 at the Brown County Inn and until 2006 at Columbus Regional Hospital.
“It’s not about the money if you love what you do,” Douglas said about her C4 job. “As much as I love cooking, I love the students even more, and I want to give back.”
She said it’s been rewarding for her to see her former students working their way through college and beginning to establish themselves in good careers. Douglas said one of her former students is a corporate training chef for a restaurant company, and another is pursuing his master’s degree in culinary nutrition.
Brittnay Gonzalez, who graduated in 2006 from East, has been C4’s cosmetology instructor for two years. She studied business at IUPUC and later obtained a license for skin care from Empire Beauty School in Southport.
Gonzalez said she wanted to come back to C4 as an instructor because she always loved the program and wanted to help others achieve their own goals in the field of cosmetology.
She hasn’t been with C4 long enough to see how her students’ careers will unfold. One student is job shadowing for a cosmetology job in Greensburg, she said, while another landed a cosmetology position in Crothersville.
“C4 is special,” Gonzalez said. “You can leave high school and get a job that isn’t just working in a field that earns minimum wage.”
Dan Ross, the C4 precision machining instructor, graduated in 1995 from Seymour High School, where he commuted during the week to the C4 Machine Trades program, which today is called the Precision Machining program.
He said his first job out of school was at Precise Mold in Columbus, a plastic injection molding company on Scott Drive, where he remained for eight years. He then took a job at C&G Tool, a Jonesville metal stamping company, where he spent nine years.
The seeds for his return to C4 in October were planted by his C4 instructor, Stan Meyer. Ross said his respect for his former instructor made him eager to take the program’s reins.
“I thought I could do some of the same kinds of things with the program that he did,” Ross said.
“C4 is so great because it’s a chance to play a role in what a kid will be someday.”
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