Salt Lake Auto Tech Student Moves Into Teaching Role

Salt Lake resident Ryan Abella always had a passion for fixing things. He began his U.S. Air Force career, after all, as an airplane mechanic.

He changed his focus for, well, practical reasons.

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Ryan Abella

“Instead of continuing to fix airplanes, I said, ‘Hey, I don’t own an airplane. None of my relatives or friends owns an airplane. But everybody’s car needs work,'” joked Abella, 46.

He retired as a major in 2013 — and he decided to use his new free time to go back to school. But because of the timing of his retirement — in the last week of UH’s class registration period — most of the courses he wanted to take already were full. His admissions counselor recommended that he try Leeward Community College’s Ford ASSET Option program.

“Basically what that is, it’s a Ford-subsidized auto repair program in which we learn all about repairing Fords with the intent that after graduation, we work at a Ford dealership,” explained Abella.

The transition back to the classroom was pretty smooth for Abella, who is double-majoring in automotive technology and education.

“I was definitely the oldest person in the class,” said Abella, “The thing that got me most was some of the behavior stuff, the attitude stuff. People talk all the time about ‘how the kids are today.’ That caught me off guard, but as soon as you get to know them, it was great.”

Abella wasn’t very interested in working at a dealership, but his humble attitude and hard work have begun opening other doors — lots of them.

First, he was one of two Hawaii students to win a $2,000 Grainger’s Tools for Tomorrow scholarship.

The other winner was Vincent Niotta of Kapolei, also a Leeward CC student.

Upon his graduation in June, he also will receive a custom Westward toolkit from Grainger.

Then, Waipahu High School reached out to him in December to ask if he’d teach the school’s automotive courses. He started that gig in January.

And if his professor, Jake Darakjian, has his way, Abella will one day teach the very course he began in.

“I have been extremely impressed with Ryan, not only as a dedicated student but more importantly, in his personal attributes — so impressed that I decided to discuss with him the possibilities of being my replacement as the instructor of the (Ford) ASSET program,” Darakjian said.

Abella doesn’t know what the future holds, but he’s happy with his present, even if he’s juggling being a teacher and a student. “It’s definitely busy, challenging, but with a great wife and family structure at home, it makes it easier,” he said. “I have a great support system here at Waipahu and at Leeward (CC).

“It’s like I tell my students: Reach for the stars, and if you only get the moon, well, at least you got something.”

No doubt Abella has a lot more in his future than just “something.”