Mechanical things have always fascinated Tom Robertson.
"I took radios, toy cars, vacuum cleaners and anything else I could get my hands on apart as a kid," he said. "Sometimes I got them back together and they still worked. My dad worked at a Dodge dealer, so he sort of directed my energy toward things that he could at least fix if I couldn't."
While working toward his associate's degree, Robertson started a job at a Ford dealer as an apprentice technician in southern Maryland. He then worked his way up to technician and eventually shop foreman, which meant he was responsible for training apprentice technicians.
Because of his various roles at the dealer, and the fact that the dealer was in a rural area, Robertson worked on any type of issue on everything from tractors to cars, trucks and even school buses. He then landed a job as a service engineer for Ford in Detroit and then as a technical trainer for Chrysler.
It was during his time as a trainer that Robertson developed his love for teaching.
"When I was shop foreman, I realized how fulfilling it was to transfer my experiences and knowledge to my apprentices," he said. "I started working on continuing my education and experience to prepare for a job where I could focus on that instead of just getting the next car fixed and out the door. My time as a technical trainer with Chrysler gave me a chance to hone my classroom delivery and course research and building skills."
Robertson earned his bachelor's degree from Pennsylvania College of Technology and his master's from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He has taught at College of DuPage since 2007.
"I hope my students develop the same curiosity I have to discover how something works and why it works that way, and then I hope they can apply that understanding to determine why something isn’t working or is broken," he said. "I hope my students also appreciate the value of continuous learning and how information updates allow them to remain proficient and profitable in our profession. Of course, I want them to continue to understand how each automobile system functions, why it functions that way, the symptoms and effect a failure in one system can cause in others, and how the systems are interrelated and connected.
"Once experienced, I hope that they will act as positive role models and mentors to the next group of apprentice automotive technicians. I want them to display pride in their workmanship and follow ethical practices to raise and uphold the image of our profession."
With luck, students will carry this well into adulthood, just as Robertson still loves the challenge of figuring out how things work.
"Diagnosing the issue or problem and then fixing it provides a great feeling of accomplishment," he said. "That doesn’t mean I’ll use whatever means necessary to fix something. I’m a firm believer that if it isn’t worth doing right, it probably isn’t worth doing."