SPC's Real-Life World Class Faculty Member, Recognized

November 7, 2018

Public Information Officer


With a 2018 Governor's Award for Performance Excellence earned, St. Philip's College is increasingly described as operating with world-class performance. Now the college and Alamo Colleges District can conservatively and literally add "world class" to the honorific of one of its faculty members for the first time, and it will be no exaggeration. St. Philip's College is leveraging the elite certification experience of this faculty member who is also a 2010 alumnus in order to benefit students at the 120-year-old college.

The high achieving faculty member is Ben Birkenfeld. His students are enrolled in his alma mater's 61-year-old Automotive Technology program that is the hub of college level auto technology training within San Antonio's multibillion-dollar auto sales and service industry.

The two credentials earned by Birkenfeld are General Motors Master Technician and the GM World Class Technician Award that one has to be a "GM Master Tech" to even qualify for, making Birkenfeld not only one of the world's few college-level GM Automotive Service Educational Program training instructor-coordinators with the World Class credential, his students are among the world's few training under a bearer of such an elite credential. With mid-term exams a few days away, they are learning from one of the best---and most ambitious---within a competitive industry.

"GM World Class Technician within General Motors is the highest certification a technician can achieve," said Birkenfeld. "Most technicians attempt it and fail. It started at the very beginning where I got my roots. First step was getting GM training up to 100 percent in the eight categories designated by GM and ASE. Those categories are A1 Engine RepairA2 Automatic TransmissionA3 Manual Drivetrain and AxlesA4 Steering and SuspensionA5 BrakesA6 Electrical SystemsA7 Heating and Air Conditioning and A8 Engine Performance. So in my time here at St. Philip's College I was able to obtain 80 percent of my GM Training through our GM ASEP Degree Program. After I graduated from St. Philip's College in 2010, I continued my training---to get trained to 100 percent in all eight categories. Then I had to get my Automotive Service Excellence Certification, which is a written test in all eight of those same categories in order to become a GM Master Tech," said Birkenfeld.

As a team competitor, Birkenfeld is observing the tenth anniversary in 2018 of a St. Philip's College student journey that included placing third in the 2008 SkillsUSA Leadership and Skills Championships Automotive Quiz Bowl with team members David Gama, Karl Henzen, Jeremy Tou and Dagoberto Rodriguez. They were part of the college’s institutional-best season in that program. It's no surprise that the always-learning, always-achieving alumnus took his professional development where few go in 2018 alone.

"After achieving that [GM Master Tech in 2018], I continued to try reach the very highest honor. Most guys stop there at GM Master Tech. So in my final test, I had to take a written and hands-on assessment in all eight categories at a designated GM training center, and that is a series of seven stations in each category. At each station, you have 40 minutes to diagnose, document and repair. To pass the assessment, you must score an 80 or better," Birkenfeld shared.  

Persistence and completion have both been hallmarks of Birkenfeld's journey to technical superstardom, and inspirations to both his colleagues and his many students.

"The test is offered worldwide, and only after you complete an assessment in each category do you become GM World Class. Many people try and fail and never attempt again. I was fortunate to pass all eight on my first attempt. Very few techs achieve this status, and as the new GM ASEP Instructor at St. Philip's College, I am one of only a few ASEP Instructors at any college to hold GM World Class status,” said Birkenfeld.

A colleague and fellow alumnus of Birkenfeld's, Shaun Smith is chair of the college’s Automotive Technology Department that has been both leveraging and celebrating what special capacity Birkenfeld brings to the region's primary service training hub since Birkenfeld earned the superstar status just before the current semester began.

"He had to take all of the General Motors web-and-instructor-led training. It’s like earning a degree from GM, certifying him in all areas. He took eight written and hands-on tests. If he passes them---which is very difficult to do---he achieves the status. Not many people have them, and very, very few instructors have them---but now he does---and our students are benefitting," Smith said with a broad smile.

"He was working at a GM dealership, and that is where he got most of it [the GM skill]. All of us [faculty] are like that, in that we can all work at a shop at a high level," Smith said. "He is home grown, an alumnus from 2010, now living in Marion, and he graduated from Marian High School," said Smith.

The quest for ways to increase the faculty and student capacity to serve is part of what led to the status of the St. Philip's College automotive technology program as a finalist in the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s Texas Higher Education Star Award program for 2017, and having the program’s best practices shared in the permanent record that corporate business leaders use as a resource on how education is contributing toward achieving goals in Texas' long-range strategic plan to remain globally competitive. Smith credits Birkenfeld as one of the contributors to that status, and he imagines Birkenfeld will continue going under the professional development hood and emerging victorious.

"This journey has been years in the making for Ben. I think what he wants to do is to pursue a bachelor’s degree to further his education on that side. He feels like he’s on the top of his game in his technical education. He wants to develop his traditional education and to develop the outstanding college GM Asset Program that he's the coordinator of," said Smith. "He is running our cohort of GM training program students. He stays with them for two years, until they get their associate degree and graduate. He aims for 25 students, and with attrition, he has about 11 right now," said Smith.

The World Class credential holder will be among the alumni, students and faculty available for conversation during St. Philip's College’s Automotive Technology Department Open House for anyone who wants to enroll in the programs---on Nov. 8 at the college's 1801 Martin Luther King Drive location. (Images are SPC archival images)

Archival image of GM World Class Technician Ben Birkenfeld (left) during dyno demo at 2017 SPC Automotive Open House - 01

Archival image of GM World Class Technician Ben Birkenfeld (center) during dyno demo at 2017 SPC Automotive Open House - 02

2017 Archival image of SPC's GM World Class Technician Ben Birkenfeld (standing far right) with Tiger Tech students giving back with pro bono car repairs

About the automotive technology program at St. Philip’s College: Established in 1957 under the leadership of Saint and St. Philip’s College President Emeritus Artemisia Bowden, St. Philip’s College operates the area’s oldest college level automotive technology program and is also a regional training center for incumbent technicians from such automakers as General Motors and Ford Motor Company. Automotive technology is one of the college's top 10 most popular degree programs, helping students master the skills to service modern vehicles. The St. Philip's College automotive technology program was a finalist in the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s Texas Higher Education Star Award program for 2017, and its best practices are shared in the permanent record that corporate business leaders use as a resource on how education is contributing toward achieving goals in Texas' long-range strategic plan to remain globally competitive. Enrollment details on the automotive technology program at SPC are available online or from department chair Shaun Smith at ssmith374@alamo.edu.