Wheeling Out the Degrees

Brian Johnson leads the Automotive Systems Technology Program at Blue Ridge Community College, a curriculum that focuses on technology (with the occasional vintage car thrown in the mix).
Portrait by Rachel Pressley

A popular automotive program at Blue Ridge Community College is taught by Brian Johnson, an experienced master technician. It’s part of a two-year degree where students learn the fundamentals of car restoration and mechanics with the goal of also becoming master technicians, landing work at dealerships and local independent garages. “Anything I can do to help students get jobs, I do it,” Johnson says. 

Currently, the college has 30-40 practice vehicles. “We partner with Ford, Subaru, Honda, Toyota, and Chrysler. Others were donated, but I normally teach basics on vehicles ten years and newer. We focus on the latest technology — even electric vehicles.” 

For leisure, students work on restoration-and-repair projects for vintage vehicles like the pictured 1970 Javelin SST 390, donated by Jim Aldridge of the Antique Automobile Club of America. “It came in boxes and was completely stripped down — basically a rolling chassis. We’ve been working on it [for four years] and have even had it in a car show.” 

Johnson is involved with Skills USA, a national job-training club, and his students enter into rigorous competitions at regional, state, and national levels. Every June, BRCC hosts a car show to raise money for students to travel. “I’ve had six make it to state and one that went to nationals. The guys who make it are the ones who are really after it,” says the instructor. 

This year, Johnson himself was awarded “Advisor of the Year” for NC. “I always tell my students, if you enjoy working on cars, it’s a win-win.”

— Photo and story by Rachel Pressley

Blue Ridge Community College, 180 West Campus Drive, Flat Rock. See blueridge.edu for more info. 828-694-1700.

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