Automotive Technology Instuctor Ron BellI was hired in August 1979 to instruct and develop the Automotive Technology program. I had previously taught at Edison High School in Huntington Beach for ten years. I also was an adjunct instructor for Golden West College evening program in 1970 (eventually became Coastline Community College). I left that program when I accepted a position at Saddleback College in 1979.

I came to teaching industrial arts in a rather round-about way.  My B.A. was academic, and I had never taken an industrial arts class.  However, during the Viet Nam war, I served as a naval officer in the mid-1960s. I was an Engineering Officer and a Division Officer in the U.S. Navy and was in charge of 25 young “enginemen” working in my division. In my division I also had 5 other “petty officers” and a chief who were older than I.  I really enjoyed this experience and I knew when I got out of the Navy I wanted to teach some type of vocationally-oriented program to young people. I went back to graduate school, changed majors (I have a BA in Speech, Radio, & TV) to Industrial Education and received my Master’s. Teaching the next 10 years in the high school arena was rewarding but my real calling was working with young adults who had a good idea where they were going.

I taught at Saddleback College from Fall 1979 to Spring 2004. I continued teaching part-time after retirement until Spring 2006 when my replacement was finally found, hired and oriented to our program.

Some of my fondest memories were the stories my students would bring to class and share. I have had some very interesting students with some unusual backgrounds. One student had worked side by side with Bill Lear (Gates Learjet) fame who after retirement wanted to begin another career. I also had student who went on and got all his Automotive Certificates while practicing plastic surgery here in South Orange County. He did most of his practical lab work wearing double rubber gloves because he often had appointments after class and needed clean hands and nails! I also had the Minister of Iran’s Aviation Forces for the Shah before the Iranian revolution. He escaped the same day the government fell. He had some fantastic tales to tell. I’ve had pilots from all the major airlines, either retired or approaching retirement who wanted to learn all about a new career in the auto industry. Some of my students were professional engineers, doctors, lawyers and even faculty members from other divisions taking classes for a certificate. It was an education for me as well as sharing experiences with all students that made teaching so enjoyable at Saddleback College.

One of my favorite stories involved a Vietnamese student who enrolled in three of my classes in Spring semester 1984. On the first class meeting I would try to get to know my students as well as get them to tell the class about themselves, their goals and reasons for enrolling at Saddleback College. This one student refused politely in all three classes to speak. After the first class I asked him why he would object to speaking and he said his English wasn’t good and didn’t want to be embarrassed. He performed well in class in all of his written assignments and did extremely well in all of his tests. Well, he changed the following Fall semester. On the first day I was ready to skip over Truong Do thinking that he would be embarrassed. Guess what? He stood up when it was his turn and faced the class and explained why he had not introduced himself before. He explained that he was a college graduate from Saigon with an accounting major. He had taken English lessons since the 3rd grade and was self conscious about his “proper English accent” that he had acquired from his British instructors. His English accent was not present. He said he spent the whole summer break at his parents’ house in San Clemente watching “American TV” and practicing his “unaccented” English. He  also explained that he had been a POW after Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese and he spent five years in a detention camp before escaping and coming to the US. He was not able to get any transcripts or other paperwork out of the country. Truong went on to complete his certificate program, got some scholarships and finished a degree from Cal State Long Beach. He now owns a very successful local auto repair business in Mission Viejo.

When I was first hired in 1979 the auto facility was temporarily housed in the “T” building on lower campus. Temporary buildings were being used when I was hired. Ev Brewer told me that we were going to get a new permanent facility soon. Well, finally in 1991 we moved to our present building on upper campus. In the 1980s we existed for several years without a division. I reported directly to Ev Brewer who was the administrator in charge of vocational programs. Later on, in the mid-80s we were incorporated into the Business Science Division, located on lower campus. Eventually, the Applied Science and Technology Division was formed. We had quite a few deans pass through and were fortunate to hire Dr. Dan Larios who succeeded in getting a permanent building for our division. After Dan Larios moved on we had several more deans including Dr. Don  Busche, Ruth Jacobsen, and Dixie Bullock to name a few. We reorganized the division once again and hired Don Taylor who is still in place. Under his leadership our division has grown, enrollments are up and more faculty has been hired. Don Taylor has done a great job as a dean. His leadership and support as well as his long-range planning goals are outstanding.

I was the only full time faculty member for five years in the program and had to prepare and teach five to six different classes a semester. In 1984 we hired Bill MacFarland and divided up the expanding curriculum. Our curriculum covers such varied classes as basic automotive, computer engine controls, ignition systems, computerized fuel systems, engine rebuilding and machining, brake systems, chassis alignment, manual transmission, automatic transmission, and State of California Emissions License. We also have introduced alternative fuels classes and at one time had the only electric vehicle production classes in California. The program offers four separate certificates as well as an AA degree for transfer students. Without our adjunct instructors we would be unable to bring a program such as this to as many students as we serve every semester. One of our part time instructors has been teaching for us for 33 years and is still doing a great job. His name is Ken Welch and he retired recently from Mission Viejo High School. We also hired a part-time lab technician around 1986. Brian Yarnell still works for the division. He is unflappable working with students in the lab and has done an outstanding job keeping us organized.

We also started the first articulation program in the state. We wrote articulation agreements with all of the surrounding high school districts that feed students to our program. This allows students to complete class credits while still in high school. Moreover, we also set up one of the first work-study programs in the state that allowed working students to set goals at work and receive college credit for successfully attaining the goals. We set up programs with most of the local auto dealerships and developed these relationships that continue today. It was truly a “win-win” program.

I owe a lot of my success to my understanding wife, Barbara and my daughter Emily, who are both teachers. They understood the reason why I had to teach nights, spend weekends preparing for next weeks’ classes, grading papers, preparing, and grading tests. We spent many weekends attending conferences and advanced training seminars to keep ahead of the advancing technology to introduce to our students.

My 25+ years at Saddleback went by so fast I guess when you are “having fun, time flies.” I have been very busy in my retirement. I have been a consultant for the Orange County Auto Dealers Association, worked as a volunteer as assistant chief timer at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah (timing some of the fastest vehicles in the world). My wife and I like to take college classes in computer technology as well as digital photography related courses. We still like to visit Cachuma Lake several times a year to camp with friends. Music has always been a major part of my life and I continue to play drums and percussion daily.