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Real-life heroes have a way of gaining the respect and admiration of others without any fanfare.  Harold Fujii, a professor with the Automotive Mechanics Technology (AMT) program at Hawaii Community College in Hilo, fits that bill perfectly.

Over the course of his career, Harold has prepared men and women to be ready to take on auto mechanic jobs after graduating from the program. Virtually all of those employed at car dealers and mechanic shops on Hawaii Island are his students — a clear measure of his success.

Harold also estimates 90% of the employers of auto mechanics on the island are his students. This attests to the solid foundation on which his students have built and furthered their careers, thanks to the education they received from Harold.

Harold’s Secret to an Outstanding Track Record

“I take a student at face value. Others may say, ‘no way this person can do it,’ but these students become leaders in the industry and in the community. That’s rewarding to me.”

Harold creates an environment for continuous learning. “I tell my students, ‘When you think you know it all, you’ve stopped learning,’” Harold said. That’s especially true in the automotive industry in which the technology is constantly evolving and continuous learning is critical. “You do it or you get obsolete.”

Harold also points out the importance of mutual learning. “I tell my students, “I learn from them; it’s not only you learning from me.’”

A Punk with a Love for Teaching

Perhaps the reason Harold can relate to students so well is that he was a graduate of the program himself. He admits that as a student he was not really into auto mechanics and did not consider himself a “gearhead.” “I had to work hard because there were others in the class who were more advanced than me,” he recalled.

I was a young punk, and now I’m an old punk,” he laughed, noting that one of his current students is older than him.

Harold says he spends more time with his students than with his family. He spends six hours a day with them, five days a week, so they get to know each other very well.  Yet, for some of students that is not enough time together. “I love teaching one-to-one, but I literally have to tell them, ‘I have to go home.’”

An Experienced Teacher

A minimum qualification for teaching at Hawaii Community College is actual private-sector experience. Harold easily met that requirement. After graduating from Hawaii Community College, he went to work at the Ford dealer on the island, and eventually was promoted to First Class Technician, before finally being named manager and was running the shop. That all happened within a span of about 10 years.

As with most heroes, Harold is quick to acknowledge support from another professor, Kenneth Shimizu, another graduate of the Hawaii Community College’s program. “I am blessed to have him,” Harold said.

The two of them are the program’s only faculty, teaching a total of 40 students each semester about auto transmission, engines, fuel systems, electronic systems, emissions, brake systems, suspension and steering, and more. Students can earn either a Certificate of Achievement or an Associate in Applied Science degree.

A Win-Win for Students and the Community

The Automotive Mechanics Technology program at Hawaii Community College services about 20 vehicles each week.  The program creates a win for both students and the community. The students are able to work on real-world vehicles, based on their skill level, under the watchful eye of their instructors. They receive college credit, while those who bring their cars in for service receive quality service at affordable prices because they are charged only for parts, not labor.

In addition, Harold says the program also services a number of state government vehicles, providing a cost-effective way for other state agencies to receive to service they need for their fleet of vehicles.