BY: PAUL TREGEMBO JR.
In the midst of the recession, founder and instructor Paul Tregembo Jr. was on tour of the Midwest with a ’51 Ford project car that his high school auto shop students had completed for Show Car Competition.
“We traveled to shows in Milwaukee, Cleveland, Indianapolis, and elsewhere across the Midwest” said Tregembo “and everywhere we went, it was common for people to ask ‘why don’t we have programs like this near us’ or ‘how come we can’t fund programs like this’. It was through hearing these questions nationwide that we came up with an idea”.
The idea Tregembo sought to make a reality became known as DRIVE One, now an approved 501(c)(3) that provides students in Macomb County and across Metro Detroit with training in automotive technology, machining, welding, woodworking, and automotive design.
“It started as a simple idea” Tregembo explained. “Take students from at-risk areas, and train them to become employable and successful adults”.
DRIVE One held its first “meet” on Thursday July 19th, 2012 in a five-car pole barn near Armada. It was attended by three students from three different school districts, who spent the fall working on a 1977 Z28 Camaro the program had purchased to compete in the Detroit Autorama.
Word of DRIVE spread across the county, and by the end of its second year, the number of weekly participants grew from the original three to over a hundred.
“We knew (DRIVE) would catch-on at some point, but not at the rate that it did. It’s hard to believe five years down-the-road we started with three, and now we have over 350 graduates of the program, with the number of students who currently participate growing weekly.”
Since 2013, 100% of students who have participated in DRIVE’s Twice-a-Week Activities have graduated high school. 82% of those graduates are now either working in the industry (ex. Machine Shops, Dealerships), are enrolled in a two-year college/four-year university, or are serving in a branch of the Armed Forces.
DRIVE is not the only program in the country who assist students with early workforce development training. But it certainly is one of the most unique in its approach and depth.
“We began with just the Automotive program, where we use project cars to get students excited, and develop a better understanding of mechanics than they would be it a regular service job or customer car” Tregembo began to explain. “We then added a Machining Program to aid the need for CNC Operators and Machinist, which we found to be two of the most sought-after jobs in the State of Michigan today. Then when our current students started bringing their younger siblings, we started a Woodworking program for the Elementary and Junior High kids as well. In 2013, we established a Welding program to help the local welding unions find young welders and fabricators, and lastly, we added an Automotive Design program, which has been recognized by both the former Big Three and the State of Michigan for teaching students how to render concept cars, and built scale clay models”.
In addition to automotive projects, machining students have built Shop Vises that have swept 1st-3rd in their class at the Michigan Industrial Technology Education Society (MITES) Regional and State Finals for three of the last four years.
In 2015, one of the female welding students completed a Custom Coffee Table with a one-off production wheel and tire as the base, courtesy of Rick’s Tire and Wheel of Shelby Township.
The woodworking students have built over 60 Michigan-shaped Pop and Wine Carriers, which have been sold at local shops, and even in Frankenmuth.
And lastly, one of the automotive design students, then a fifteen-year old high school freshman, constructed a 1:3 scale clay model of a 1970 AMX that received the “Creativity Award” from the American Society of Body Engineers (ASBE). This year, she became the first student ever to win the award from ASBE twice with a 1:5 scale concept of a 2017 Pontiac Trans Am.
“It’s not about the lengthy awards or even the scholarships. We’re glad students are receiving recognition and even funding for college. But our focus is more about using these projects as a way for students to learn and develop the skills employers will expect of them, in a way they can personally relate to and take pride in”.
To add to an already successful and proven approach in CTE, DRIVE is planning to go one step further this year regarding training students for employment.
Through collaboration with WAY Academy, a Michigan Charter School, students enrolled in both WAY Academy East and DRIVE One will be granted a seat-waiver, allowing them to work one full-day a week at local shops and dealerships as opposed to a normal Co-Op program, where they are only allowed to work two-to-three hours after school five days a week. Though the program won’t launch until September, many employers have already jumped-on the band wagon, and begun recruiting DRIVE Students for the fall.
In only five years, DRIVE has grown from an after-school program based in a five-car pole barn, to a non-profit with its own Technical Center. And it continues to only grow larger.
DRIVE kicked-off its sixth season in September, working Tuesday and Thursday Nights from 6-9pm at the DRIVE One Technical Center (DOTC) in Roseville. For more information, and to find out how you can help DRIVE One, please visit their website at www.driveone.net, or check them out at facebook.com/driveonedetroit.