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PROGRAM SPOTLIGHT: Heyward Career and Technology Center’s Diesel Program Encourages Students to Solve Real-World Problems


Jamaal Cobb

Lower Richland High School senior Jamaal Cobb has always loved working on cars. Growing up, he learned how to fix brakes and car suspensions but never worked directly with engines. Jamaal joined Heyward Career and Technology Center’s diesel program this school year to learn how to fix engines.


“It’s a pleasure to be part of this program and explore the engine more. It’s pretty fun,” he said.  


Jamaal is one of 41 students in the diesel program this year. He is currently taking Diesel II, one of two introductory classes.


In every level of the program, students start out by learning about safety. After that, they learn about the tools they’ll be working with, how engines work, how to keep them running and what happens if an engine breaks down.


Diesel instructor Martin Butler has been involved with the program for more than seven years. He makes sure his students are working on different tasks every day. One day, they could be working on a car engine and the next they could be working on a truck that has engine problems.


“We’ll do pretty much any and everything that needs to be done. I like to broaden their perspectives so that when they get to the real world, they can work anything from lawnmowers to semi-trucks,” said Butler.


Butler stresses the importance of doing everything correctly, even the smallest things. For example, a previous class took piston rings off and put them in the wrong slots. Students in the Diesel II class that Jamaal is in were installing the pistons properly when they noticed the pistons wouldn’t go in. 


“I had to show the students that the ring was in the wrong slot. They had to reverse it and pop it in the correct way. That way they wouldn’t break any piston rings,” said Butler. 

Diesel Program

Jamaal says communication is key when it comes to these kinds of situations.


“When we don’t think something looks right, we learn how to make it better. We all work together,” he said.


Butler says he likes preparing students for any situation or task they may deal with in a professional setting. 


“There may be a day when a person is sick who just worked on something. If you know the proper steps for putting it in, no matter what they did, you can walk in right behind them and do the proper steps to install the part correctly,” he said.


Before coming to Heyward, Butler worked on diesel vehicles at car dealerships. He ensures that the atmosphere the students are working in is similar to his previous career, physically with the presence of cars and engines and mentally with the connections the students make. 


Jamaal says it’s important for him to get along with his classmates because he’ll have to get along with any co-workers he’ll have in the future. 


“When I first joined the program, I wasn’t much of a talker, but then we all got together and started talking. When you’re working with somebody, you need to know them. You need to have a relationship with them because you can’t have an attitude with anyone,” Jamaal said. 


Butler says students who successfully complete the program can get five Student Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certifications, an OSHA 10-hour course certification and a Snap-on Meter certification for free. He anticipates that 12 students will receive their certifications by the end of the school year.


“Outside of the program, you could be looking at paying anywhere between $80 and $100 per test. Here, you can get them for free. All you have to do is pay attention, dial it in and get what you get from the program,” said Butler.


Students who aren’t graduating by the time they complete the diesel program can also come back and do work-based learning, which includes working in an actual shop.


“Those students earned the right to still be with the program but also go to work,” said Butler.


After he graduates in May, Jamaal plans to work with his dad in a diesel shop and plans to study electrical engineering at Midlands Technical College. He encourages other students to try the program out, especially if they’re into working with cars like he is.


“Do what you love. Explore it. Try it out. See if you like it or not,” Jamaal said.

February is Career and Technical Education (CTE) Month. For more information about CTE programs in Richland One, go to or call (803) 735-3325.