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Auto Tech Alum David Nash Builds on Strengths as Fixer

3/17/15


West Windsor, N.J. – Mercer County Community College alumnus David Nash ‘92 (A.A.S., Automotive Technology) has built a solid career by recognizing what he is good at and what he is passionate about. Nash, who serves as the Cooperative Education and Structured Learning Experience Coordinator for Mercer County Technical Schools (MCTS), has followed a natural progression that these days is allowing him to make his mark by helping young people.

Nash counsels his students about what it takes to succeed.  “Success is a formula with three ingredients – natural talent, interest and marketability,” he advises. It’s a formula he himself has followed.

As early as his freshman year at West Windsor-Plainsboro High School, Nash recognized that he would rather have his head under the hood of a car than his nose in a book.  Even with two older brothers who had headed off to four-year colleges after high school, he believed he needed to go a different route.

“I knew I had a gift for fixing things,” he says, recalling a visit to his high school guidance counselor when he was 15. “Walking out of the counselor’s office, I felt relief. I am good at this [fixing things]. I am interested in this.” 

The support of his dad, a union electrician, helped.  “We are a family of trades people.  They got it,” Nash said.

Mercer County Technical Schools (MCTS) offered an Automotive Technology program that was the right fit. So, during his senior year of high school, Nash spent his mornings at high school and his afternoons in MCTS’s auto repair shop.

“I dove into it and I did really well,” he recalls.

Still, Nash recognized the value of college, especially if he wanted to advance to a managerial level. MCCC’s Automotive Technology program offered exactly what he needed – 75 percent automotive and 25 percent academic.

“Mercer’s program has a required internship component. I worked part-time while going to school. That’s a win. You learn how to manage your time, how to deliver for your professor, and how to deliver for your employer,” he said.

Nash recalls his Mercer experience as "phenomenal." Even a required public speaking class proved highly useful. “It has paid dividends my whole career,” he maintains.

He compares college to having a quiver of arrows. “Mercer gave me the knowledge base and skills from which to draw. And the internship component gave me the real life experience and connections in the field."

By the time Nash graduated from MCCC, he had risen to an A level mechanic at Greenfield Dodge in Lawrenceville. And, by the age of 24, he was promoted to service manager and shop foreman at the dealership. “I had to earn the respect of guys who were older than me and had been doing the work longer,” he recalls. “I learned how to hire – and to fire.”

Alumnus David Nash splits his time
between two MCTS campuses.
At home in the office and the classroom.

In a true symbiosis, as a manager at Greenfield, Nash found himself in a position to offer internships to MCCC students, which often led to jobs at Dodge. “Lots of Professor Bassini’s students would come to work for me. [Fred Bassini is MCCC’s Automotive Technology Program coordinator.]  I have always had a strong relationship with Fred and the college.”

Nash notes that the guidance he provided Bassini’s students awakened him to another calling. “It’s what shaped me for teaching. I loved teaching my guys. I knew if they understood the ‘whys’ they would do better.”

When an opening arose at MCTS in 2000, Nash joined the teaching staff as an auto shop instructor. “Thirteen years after graduating from high school, I was in the classroom where I had once been a student. I returned to my roots.”

Coming from industry, Nash says it was an abrupt new world, but with characteristic enthusiasm, he jumped right in, becoming more effective with each passing year. “I taught more than 500 kids in those ten years,” Nash said.

In 2009, Nash became an MCTS administrator, correlating internships for all of MCTS’s 19 programs at its two campuses. Total enrollment is more than 750 high school juniors and seniors, including MCTS’s newest program, the Health Science Academy.

One of Nash's administrative joys is to match the right students for the right internships, a process that starts early in the school year. “When they first get off the bus, I am already looking at their strengths. I get word about job opportunities and my goal is to send the right students to those employers.” He estimates that 60 seniors each year have internships with area businesses.

Internships with the Haldeman Auto Group have been particularly fruitful. “It’s a perfect setting. These are career professionals. They are the best people on the planet at mentoring students,” Nash says.

Nash is especially proud of MCTS’s A.Y.E.S. program, which provides opportunities for summer internships for rising high school juniors and has been rated number one in the state. “There’s a profound effect to being hired the summer before your senior year. You get immersed and it snaps you into reality. It can make a big difference in your future direction,”he says.

Nash has added a community service experience for interested students through Princeton Alliance Church's Cars Ministry. “Church members donate cars that can be repaired and given to needy people,” he said. “Students learn teamwork and participate in a meaningful community service project.”

And, he has returned to the classroom, teaching a class each fall about OSHA regulations that is required for students working in environments with the potential for injury. He says that teaching has made him more effective as an internship coordinator. “I get to know the kids, which helps me connect them to right internship."

Nash is a strong believer in MCCC. “If you are interested in college and aren’t blessed with unlimited wealth, you’re foolish not to go to Mercer," he tells his students.

He also advises them to be realistic. “Work smart and hard. There are so many alternative routes. A four-year college is great if you have the aptitude and interest. But if not, gravitate to the other things you excel doing.”

Nash says his ultimate goal is to help students “leave teenage island and enter the adult world.”

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