The best teachers are often times the ones who have practical experience in their field; Highland Community College automotive technology instructors have that experience, and then some. With over 70 years of combined experience in the automotive industry, Highland’s three instructors bring a wealth of real world knowledge and practical application to the classroom. That does not mean they rest on their laurels. The instructors continue to stay current in the field; all three are ASE-certified technicians.
Meet Todd Vacek, auto body program instructor
Todd Vacek has been involved in auto body at HCC since 1998, becoming a full-time faculty member in 2013..
Vacek completed his certificate in auto body repair in 1999 and his associate of General studies in 2003 from Highland. He went on to complete his bachelor of arts in management and leadership from Judson University in Elgin. He started as a Lab Assistant in Auto Body and eventually began teaching part-time. In adition to providing instruction on the repair and refinishing of vehicles, he also marketed the CareerTEC and Auto Body programs. He was a member of the team that helped Highland's Auto Body program achieve the National automotive Technicians Education Foundation (NATEF) Master Certification status.
Vacek holds certifications in Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) and is currently a member of the Illinois College Automotive Instructors Association. He received HCC's Part-Time Faculty Excellence Award in 2010 and, as a Highland student, was awarded the Technical Educational Award.
Todd's proven instructional skills, exceptional technical knowledge, and his desire to continually learn new advancements in his field and transfer that knowledge to students make him an excellent fit for Highland.
Meet Jim Palmer, automotive instructor
Jim Palmer has been bringing his automotive knowledge to Highland students for more than seven years, and shows an obvious enthusiasm for his work. His eagerness to teach his students what he himself practices in his own business is something he hopes his students can capitalize on for their future.
Palmer comes from a family of automotive technicians, and says it’s in his blood. Both of his grandfathers were in the industry, and his father was an engine mechanic for the Navy. At an early age Palmer found himself interested in working with his hands - tinkering with bicycles and small engines. As a young child he had already found his career path.
To help advance himself in the automotive field, Palmer participated in a vocational program in Sterling while attending high school. He later enrolled in Highland’s automotive program, where he would eventually earn his associates degree.
After HCC, he worked for a car dealership, and later a couple of independent technicians before starting his own business. Palmer is currently teaching full-time at Highland while continuing to run his own operation.
“When I’m not here, I am at home working on cars,” said Palmer.
While Palmer’s real world experience is something not lost in the classroom or the shop, he also stays current with technical training; he is an ASE certified master technician.
Meet William Jeffrey Robertson, automotive instructor
Jeff Robertson started full time in August of 2007, but was no stranger to the HCC classroom. Not only was he a student of the program in 1971, but he had also been teaching part-time in the division for ten years.
Like Palmer, Robertson knew from a young age that he wanted to pursue a career in the automotive industry. His father was a mechanic, and at the age of eight Robertson began to work alongside his dad fostering a desire to work on cars as a career.
After finishing the same Highland automotive program he now teaches, Robertson began a 35-year career as an automotive technician, during which time he owned and operated Robertson Automotive.
Robertson mainly teaches first-year students of the program and enjoys what he is doing. “I like to relate much of my professional experience to my students. It gives a kind of real world feel to the classroom,” says Robertson.