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Automotive Program Has Its First Distance-Learning Graduate

One day in 1999, automotive technician Robert W. Stepanovich was surfing the Internet for colleges that offered degrees in the automotive career field, when he came upon the home page for Pennsylvania College of Technology and its School of Transportation Technology.

After working as an automotive technician for 14 years in Monroeville and the Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., areas, the Murrysville native was ready to expand his employment opportunities by earning a college degree.

Providing for a family with four young children meant he would have to keep working full-time in Monroeville while attending school. With the Automotive Technology Management Distance-Learning bachelor-degree major at Penn College, Stepanovich found a way to do both, enrolling in the program in the fall of 1999.

“The Distance Learning was essential,” Stepanovich said, “because I could not move near or onto the campus.”

He was also pleased to learn he’d receive credit for his work experience, with all eight of his Automotive Service Excellence certifications being applied toward the “hands-on” mechanical component of the program.

“Supporting a family as a flat-rate ‘tech’ is difficult,” Stepanovich said. “You’re never sure what you will make one week from the next. I wanted more for my family, and I wanted my two older children (ages 8 and 9 in 1999) to see how much more opportunity there is with a college degree.”

In December 2001, Stepanovich accomplished his goal, becoming the first Penn College student to earn an Automotive Technology Management degree via Distance Learning. He graduated cum laude and earned membership in Alpha Chi, a national honor society for students in baccalaureate programs.

Currently, Stepanovich is working in Michigan for TAC Automotive as a contract employee for the Ford Motor Co.’s technical hotline. It’s a job he landed in July 2000 after being referred by Ronald A. Garner, associate professor of automotive technology at Penn College. Now, with his bachelor’s degree in hand, Stepanovich is eligible to work directly for Ford.

Accepting the job with TAC Automotive meant living in a hotel on weekdays and returning to his home in Murrysville on weekends to be with his family and to make arrangements to find a new place to live in Michigan – all while continuing to take online courses at Penn College.

“By taking courses online, I was free to live wherever I wanted and still attend the same school,” he said. “I was actually living in a hotel for three months while working in Michigan, attending classes online, and going back to Pennsylvania on the weekends to move from our old house while looking for a house in Michigan. I could never have done that while attending conventional classes. After buying a house in Canton, Mich., and relocating my family, I was able to continue school and graduate in December 2001.”

Stepanovich used a desktop computer to complete his online course work while at home and a laptop computer when he was staying at the hotel. For the most part, he tackled nine or 10 credits each semester, increasing his load to 18 credits for the Fall 2001 semester.

“I wanted to graduate as a Christmas gift to myself,” he explained.

He met his obligations in a variety of ways, such as participating in computer chat rooms and listservs and viewing videotapes. Assignments were e-mailed, faxed or mailed conventionally to the instructor. Most of the communication with his instructor was via e-mail. Stepanovich, who previously attended classes at a college and a technical institute, said the Distance-Learning format at Penn College posed no impediment.

“I actually had more interaction with the instructors online than I did when attending classes in person,” he said. “I recommend Penn College to all of the technicians I have worked with over the years.”

Having caught the Distance-Learning bug, Stepanovich now is considering whether to pursue a master’s degree in automobile design and manufacturing management.

“I’m really proud that I was able to go back to school after 16 years off, graduate cum laude and Alpha Chi, and I would recommend this course to anyone,” he said. “For those who are skeptical of online courses, I have taken both conventional and online courses and found that it all depends on what you are willing to put into it, as to what you’ll get out of it.”

For more information about Automotive Technology Management and other Distance-Learning degrees available at Penn College, call toll-free 1-800-367-9222, ext. 7219, send e-mail to or visit on the Web.

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