A Hollander Excellence Interview: Tom Phillips & Hennepin Technical College (Part 1)

May 13, 2015

Hollander Excellence sat down with Tom Phillips of Hennepin Technical College, of Brooklyn Park, Minn. The conversation ranged a variety of topics including: Hennepin Tech’s curriculum, what they are doing to equip the next generation of auto mechanics, job placement, partnership with local industry and even – his favorite car. Part 1 of 4 upcoming posts is below, along with the full audio of the interview! 


Hollander Excellence: Can you start by telling us more about what you do, your history with Hennepin Tech, and your background in the industry?

Tom: I started fixing cars in 1978. I attended Hennepin Technical College before that, and then went through 21 years mostly working as a body tech. I went on to teach at the college for two years, and then spent six years teaching high school before returning to Hennepin Tech since. So that makes 15 years of teaching!

Hollander Excellence: What originally drove you into this field? What were your interests in the area?

Tom: It started off with my dad--he was a great guy and a great father, but he wasn’t all that mechanically inclined. As a matter of fact, he didn’t do anything with cars. So when I was in high school, I taught him how to change a car's oil and it all developed from there. I always liked cars, so when I turned 16 I kind of dove into the gearhead thing. When I went to the technical school, I was going to sign up for auto mechanics but it was full, so the counselor suggested I enroll in auto body. I'd love to say that this was planned out for my whole life, but if it was planned it wasn't planned by me. I fell into it and found out that this is something I really enjoy.

Hollander Excellence: Transitioning into Hennepin Tech and what you’re doing now, can you give people who may not be familiar with the program some insight into what the curriculum is like for the Automotive Technology students, Auto Body Collision Technology, and what Hennepin Tech is offering right now?

Tom: We offer a two-year program--both degree and diploma, but there are also some certificates available. It includes fundamentals such as welding, metal straightening, replacing panels as far as fenders, doors, quarter panels, all the outer-metal and plastic of the cars. All of the trim, all of the glass, the interiors. The students also learn electrical, and then they spend an entire semester doing refinishing techniques, learning how to spray single stages, basecoats, etc. We also teach them how to spot repair and blend panels. During their third semester--what we call our Heavy Collision semester--they do mechanical work like heating and cooling, brakes, starting, charging. We also do damage analysis, frame repair, structural repair, replacing structural parts, corrosion protection, along with airbags and the other safety devices, as well as plastic repair and even how to estimate and charge. Towards the end of their program they complete a 2-month internship at a local body shop or collision repair shop where they get a chance to work alongside the technicians--practicing and demonstrating the things they've learned. This practice really helps them advance their skills, and these internships frequently turn into jobs.


Stay tuned for Part 2 of our interview with Tom Phillips to learn more about Hennepin Tech and for a behind-the-scenes look into what you'd learn in an auto repair program.

Full Audio:

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