After 30 years working in auto body and as a custodian, Ole Risland was ready for a change. With the support of his wife and his youngest daughter, Risland made the decision to return to school and pursue a diploma in automotive service and performance at Northwest Technical College.
“It’s been something that I’ve always enjoyed,” he said of the automotive service field. “I actually was going to do it 30 years ago, but got talked out of it and went into auto body instead.”
A recent loss convinced him that there’s no better time than the present to pursue his dream of working in the service shop for an automotive dealership or to consider owning his own business.
“I just lost my dad a year ago, so it’s been a struggle,” he said. “And I think that’s one reason why I just said ‘You know what, I want to start doing what I want to do.’”
Risland’s dream is being supported by a $1,000 George W. Neilson Foundation scholarship awarded by the NTC Foundation. Risland is one of 32 students who are being supported by NTC Foundation scholarships this year, and one of 20 recipients of the Neilson Foundation scholarship. The Neilson Foundation scholarships are funded by a $20,000 grant from the foundation to support first-year NTC students.
“Someone had mentioned me about scholarship program, and I put my name in to see what would happen,” Risland said. “Then they notified me saying I was awarded a scholarship, and its like ‘great, cool! That’ll help!’”
Risland said he has used the scholarship to purchase tools necessary for his lab work in the program. In those labs, he says, he’s been able to call on his decades of experience in the automotive industry while learning some new tricks along the way.
“I’ve got some old-school ways,” he says. “If an engine is missing, some of the younger generation wonder, ‘what could this be?’ Well, 30 years ago it would be either your plugs or a vacuum — so let’s start there. The way I was taught, you just dig into it.”
He says the complexities of today’s vehicles have led to the need for computerized diagnostic tools, which he’s learning in NTC’s state-of-the-art lab, that help him when it comes time to diagnose an issue.
“The computers will scan everything and basically let you know where the problem could be,” he said. “The computers are taking a lot of the guesswork out of it. The technical part of this program — I’m enjoying that.”
When Risland entered the auto body profession 30 years ago, he got his start with an education at Northwest Technical College — then still known as the Bemidji Area Vocational Technical Institute. Now, with support from the NTC Foundation, he’s come full circle alongside his youngest of three children, who attends classes just down the hall as part of NTC’s child care program. And he has simple advice for anyone who might be considering whether NTC would be right for them.
“Go for it,” he said.